PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A howling mob of heavily armed men shouting "Kill whites!" prevented the landing of American military personnel here Monday and forced the ranking U.S. diplomat to flee the port, in a grave blow to international efforts to restore Haitian democracy.
The troops, only the officers armed with pistols, were brought here on the tank landing ship Harlan County--a 560-foot, flat-bottomed amphibious vessel with no combat capability--as part of a 3-month-old, U.N.-sponsored agreement designed to restore exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to office Oct. 30.
But anti-Aristide forces, including the military that overthrew the president in a bloody revolt Sept. 30, 1991, described the arranged landing as an occupation and called on the population to prevent the ship from docking. Although a handful of seemingly ordinary citizens gathered to watch, the demonstrators, wearing civilian clothes, were members of a police-sponsored group known as "attaches."
They frequently carry out terrorism, including murders, at the direction of the military and police.
In Washington, Secretary of State Warren Christopher warned that unless the troops are permitted to land, the United States will urge the U.N. Security Council to reimpose sanctions against Haiti. He said the troops will not try to go ashore until their safety is assured.
The three-hour confrontation Monday began with the detention inside the port of three U.S. technicians sent in to organize the arrival of the Harlan County. It ended with U.S. Charge d'Affaires Vicki Huddleston, the ranking American diplomat here, being forced to drive away after her armored sedan was pounded on and rocked by screaming demonstrators.
The mob then turned on the 20 or so foreign journalists gathered at the port's gate, tripping, kicking and pushing them away from the area. Pistols and assault rifles were plainly brandished, as were a few pitchforks, and several journalists had their cars badly damaged before they could escape.
No guns were fired at the port, but shots were heard in nearby streets as market vendors and shoppers ran in panic from the area. Shots also were fired in the air in an obvious attempt to intimidate two American reporters trying to return to the port. There were no immediate reports of injuries, however.
The port entrance was barricaded as a large mob pranced and chanted in jubilation.
As the day passed, the entire city came under the control of the attaches, who set up roadblocks and sporadically searched journalists' cars. The Organization of American States closed its Port-au-Prince human-rights monitoring offices after its cars were attacked.
Although diplomats said privately that they hoped, if not expected, that the army would relent in the next day or two and permit the Harlan County to disembark its cargo, attaches and radical anti-Aristide leaders showed no signs of backing away.
Armed men under the direction of known anti-Aristide figures occupied the national radio station and began broadcasting calls for more demonstrators to occupy the entrance to the port today and again prevent the landing.
One leading right-wing politician, Reynold Georges, broadcast a demand that pro-Aristide Prime Minister Robert Malval resign within 72 hours or face a new uprising. Georges has strong contacts with the military and was a supporter of the Duvalier family that ruled Haiti from the 1950s until 1987.
Georges and the other leaders of the radio takeover were seen earlier organizing and egging on the demonstrators at the pier.
It was their men that Huddleston, her voice shaking and her hands trembling, said were "a group of gangsters, a group of thugs who don't want the (democratic) future of Haiti to arrive."
But another senior diplomat, special U.N. envoy Dante Caputo, said the army was the true force behind the Monday confrontation. "Yes," he answered reporters when asked if the frightening demonstration was planned by the Haitian military.
"What happened today," he said in a news conference in the courtyard of the U.S. Embassy, "is the exclusive responsibility of the Haitian armed forces."
Caputo, who was sent here last February to negotiate Aristide's return and the resignation of the Haitian army high command, particularly its commander in chief, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, added that the Monday confrontation was "an insult to the United Nations and United States."
The arrival of the Harlan County was part of an accord signed July 3 on New York City's Governors Island by Aristide and Cedras, who helped engineer Aristide's overthrow.
The 185 U.S. troops and about 15 Canadian soldiers on the Harlan County are the first of what is to be a force of nearly 600 military personnel that the July 3 agreement provided for to reform and train a new Haitian army. They also are to repair and build roads, military facilities and other structures.