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Both Sides Work for Haiti Compromise, Fear Civil War

December 03, 1987|DON A. SCHANCHE | Times Staff Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The strong-arm provisional government and at least some of its civilian opposition moved toward compromise Wednesday amid fears that the impoverished country's bloody electoral crisis may provoke civil war and American intervention if a resolution is not in sight by the end of the week.

In the first break in the critical impasse between political and military leaders since Sunday's brutally aborted attempt to hold a presidential election, the army-led National Governing Council of Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy invited the country's major civic institutions to send delegates to the National Palace as a first step in getting credible elections back on track.

New 'Wise Men' Sought

Namphy asked the institutions that--under Haiti's new constitution--appointed eight of the nine members of the beleaguered Provisional Electoral Council to nominate new "wise men" within 72 hours to plan an election to be held no later than Jan. 10.

The government nominates the ninth member of the council, which tried to conduct Sunday's voting in the face of attacks on voters and polling officials by government troops and gangs of armed men believed to be members of the Tontons Macoutes, the feared secret police under ousted dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. The election was called off, but not before more than 30 people had been killed.

The previous council members, who had worked against government interference to organize what was to have been Haiti's first free election in more than 30 years, were dismissed by Namphy's ruling junta Sunday night.

Whether the institutions involved--the Catholic and Protestant churches, the Supreme Court, Haiti's human rights agencies, the Journalists' Assn., the National Advisory Council, the University Council and business and agricultural cooperatives--will respond favorably to the Namphy invitation remains to be seen.

The original "wise men" rejected Namphy's dismissal of them as unconstitutional and have refused to resign. Some of the major political groups involved in the election have called publicly for their restoration.

"There is no way the Namphy government will accept the old Electoral Council, and they probably won't accept any individual who was on it," said one Haitian familiar with the negotiations that are under way. He and other sources who asked not to be identified said the junta was convinced that the old Electoral Council had engineered the elections to favor the left and to bar the extreme right from even competing for office.

But they added that "there is a glimmer of hope that they might finesse this thing" through intensive trade-offs now being negotiated between right-wing Duvalierists believed to be behind the anti-election terror campaign last week and left-wing political figures the army wants to bar from power.

The sources said they believe that it was the army's fear of a leftist victory that inspired the campaign of terror that culminated in "Bloody Sunday" at the polls. They said the Namphy junta is now looking for a solution that will save face for the Duvalierists banned by the council from running in the national election, while at the same time inducing the two leftist groupings that they fear most to stand aside.

Semblance of Legitimacy

With both Duvalierists and the left out of the running, they said, the army and the junta would retain a semblance of legitimacy by accepting any centrist candidates who wanted to continue in the presidential race.

"A lot of negotiating is going on. There is talk among all the factions," said one of the sources. He agreed with two other equally well-informed sources that "if there is no sense of things moving forward by Friday, there will be civil war. . . . And if there is civil war, there will be American intervention."

"Either we sit down together now or we sit and wait for the 82nd Airborne Division to land," said another of the sources.

In Washington, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said, "We have not considered any intervention in Haiti."

The Namphy move toward reconciliation faces major hurdles, however, in a nation in which even his major civilian opponents have so far failed to find common ground among themselves concerning the crisis, much less with the government responsible for derailing the election.

One front-runner, Baptist minister Sylvio Claude, called Wednesday for a general strike to begin today if the Namphy government does not step down immediately in favor of a new civilian-military coalition.

The call aroused fears of more bloodshed in many quarters.

"I think everyone is afraid that if there is a general strike and a heavy-handed army reaction, the 82nd Airborne will land within hours," said an economist with close ties to the government.

He and other sources said that Namphy's motivation in seeking accommodation now is motivated largely by fear of what civil war and foreign intervention would do to the army and to them personally.

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