Haitian Army Blocks Airlift of Voting Materials

November 29, 1987|DON A. SCHANCHE | Times Staff Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Growing conflict Saturday between Haiti's army-led provisional government and independent civil officials threw plans for today's presidential and legislative elections into disarray, making it certain that many voters will not be able to cast their ballots on time.

Election officials complained that a surprise army order, grounding two civilian helicopters that they had chartered to rush ballots, ballot boxes and other voting materials to remote polling places on election eve, had forced them to postpone voting in some areas in the country's first free election in 30 years.

The nine members of the independent Electoral Council also charged the government with exposing them "to the acts of death squads" by denying them official protective security or the right to use private guards bearing legally licensed weapons.

A Saturday order by the Interior and Defense Ministry banning all private weapons, including licensed ones, on Election Day prompted the alarm of the Electoral Council, which had been guarded by volunteers with licensed shotguns.

The government has consistently denied the Electoral Council's requests for official protection despite numerous attacks on its election headquarters here.

The government had promised the use of a military helicopter to distribute voting materials, but when it failed to provide the aircraft, the Electoral Council chartered two civilian helicopters from the United States.

The private helicopters were preparing to take off from Port-au-Prince airport Saturday morning on their 11th-hour mission when an army order citing "security reasons" halted the operation. The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince reportedly protested the order to no avail.

In another development, the State Department confirmed that the Haitian government had barred three congressmen appointed by President Reagan to the official U.S. delegation of election observers.

A department spokesman said the Haitian junta "found offensive" an Oct. 14 letter signed by 46 U.S. congressmen protesting the provisional government's failure to protect the election process.

Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.), Delegate Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.) and Resident Commissioner Jaime B. Fuster (D-Puerto Rico) were "told not to come," a U.S. official here said. Asked if that was an insult to Reagan, who has supported the transitional government as the best guarantor of free elections, the official said, "I'd call it that." But he added, "We still have an observer delegation of 14. They're here."

31 Foreign Groups

There are 31 foreign observer groups in Haiti to watch today's polling. Attempts by some of them to reach one district about 50 miles north of Port-au-Prince on Saturday ended when they were blocked by armed followers of former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier who had sealed off the main highway with barricades.

The gang, reportedly composed of Duvalier's disbanded secret policemen, the Tontons Macoutes, also smashed the cameras of a French television crew and chased American journalists, waving pistols and machetes. An American Broadcasting Co. reporter said army troops were nearby during the fracas but did nothing to intervene.

Earlier Saturday, the Electoral Council of nine "wise men," who have worked for months against government indifference to bring off the election, announced that voting will be postponed in a handful of areas that will not receive balloting materials before polls open at 6 a.m.

"Vehicles transporting voting materials have been burned, ballot boxes have been stolen, some roads have been cut," the communique complained. It added that local election officials had been "attacked and pursued by armed individuals" in some areas.

With the grounding of the helicopters, the communique noted, the council had decided to put off election day in the affected places.

Will Not Invalidate Vote

Dr. Ernst Mirville, president of the Electoral Council, said "we might have to postpone the vote in many places, but this will not invalidate the election."

Mirville said voters who are turned away for lack of ballots will be permitted to vote later in the week, while the majority of polling places will proceed with voting today. Even if the balloting goes smoothly, officials said they expect that it will be five to 10 days before they know who among the 22 presidential candidates have gained the first and second spots, placing them in a runoff election Dec. 27. There had been 23 candidates, but one minor candidate dropped out Friday night.

Against the background of election-related violence that has taken at least 30 lives since Monday, no one expects voting to go smoothly.

Most Haitians questioned on the streets of the capital Saturday said they plan to vote early because they expect violence at the polls later in the day.

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