PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Government forces on Monday battled mutinous soldiers demanding the release of an alleged coup leader, and at least four rebels were killed, radio stations and witnesses reported.
The fighting began after members of the elite Leopards Battalion occupied the airport and went on a shooting and burning spree in the Port-au-Prince suburbs.
They burned barricades and forced stores to close. Schools shut down because of the violence.
The Leopards took over the government television and radio stations at 3:30 p.m. and halted broadcasts.
The shooting between guardsmen and Leopards broke out Monday afternoon. Radio stations gave varying reports on casualties, from four to eight killed and eight wounded.
Barricades of Tires
Radio Metropole, an independent station, said 300 demonstrators supporting the Leopards paraded down Delmas Road, a main commercial throughfare in the capital, shouting anti-government slogans, demanding that President Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril resign and erecting barricades of flaming tires.
In the afternoon, several Leopards made three demands over the independent radio station Haiti-Inter. They said they wanted the release of the alleged coup leader, Lt. Col. Himmler Rebu, a civilian government to replace Avril and the complete restoration of the 1987 constitution, which was suspended last June. The constitution has 37 articles, which mostly limit the role of the army.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Susan Clyde said the rebels occupied Haiti's international airport, which remained closed.
"Everything is calm except for the Leopards," she said. "They say they want Rebu released, and that's the standoff."
The Leopards, created in the 1960s by ousted dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, are the best-trained and most professional in the military. As opposed to others in the 7,000-man army, the Leopards have not been associated with human rights violations.
Sources have said that Rebu and the other three led the attempt Sunday to overthrow Avril, who was installed as president by a coup six months ago.
Avril's government removed Rebu from command of the Leopards and put him under military guard at an undisclosed location. The fate of the other three alleged coup leaders was not known.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said: "We are pleased that President Avril's authority has been restored. U.S. policy objectives for Haiti remain the promotion of democratic reform, respect for human rights, credible economic development programs and cooperation on narcotics issues.
"President Avril has made significant progress on this agenda in the last six months. . . ," Tutwiler said.
Loyal soldiers in tanks rescued Avril as he was being driven to the airport Sunday night, in handcuffs, to be flown into exile. It would have been the Caribbean nation's third coup in less than a year.
He made a televised speech soon after midnight, flanked by soldiers in battle gear, but gave no details of the coup attempt. He blamed it on "some members of the army forces, blinded by their exorbitant ambitions." How many of the battalion's 300 members were involved in the mutiny was not known.
Motives for Sunday's coup remained unclear, but it appeared linked to the arrest last week of four ranking army officers accused of drug trafficking.
Fritz Longchamp, director of the Washington Office on Haiti research group, said by telephone that rumors had circulated in the military that Avril had a long list of officers to be fired in a crackdown on narcotics and corruption.
He said four of those were rumored to be the coup leaders: Rebu; Col. Guy Francois, commander of the Dessalines Barracks; Col. Phillipe Biambey, commander of the Presidential Guard, and Col. George Valcin, police chief of Port-au-Prince.
Longchamp said the coup attempt ended after the government negotiated the release of hostages held at the Leopards camp. At least five people were believed held at one stage, including Avril's wife, Marie-Ange, one of their sons and the defense and interior minister, Acedius St. Louis.