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U.S. Will Send Troops to Haiti, Diplomats Say

May 11, 1994|KENNETH FREED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The United States plans to send at least 600 heavily armed and protected troops to purge this nation's military, even if a broader, tougher program of international sanctions forces the army regime to give up power, diplomats and Haitian sources say.

The only question is the timing and ultimate size of the force, sources say. "When (the American troops) come is under discussion in Washington right now," a U.S. official said here Tuesday.

He said the choices are to send the troops in before or after the local military leaders leave. The Americans "prefer that they (the Haitian military leaders) leave first," said one source, "but if they don't, the troops will go in anyway."

Some U.S. planners are arguing that the toughening of sanctions should be given a chance to work, while others are said to believe that the new efforts can't work or will take too long.

A U.N. Security Council resolution has given three Haitian military leaders--army commander Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, his chief deputy, Gen. Philippe Biambi, and national police commander Lt. Col. Michel-Joseph Francois--until May 21 to resign and leave the country.

If they do not, an international economic embargo will take effect, banning all trade and commercial dealings with the tiny nation; the sanctions will exempt food products, cooking oil and medical and humanitarian aid. Nations also are asked to freeze the assets of the Haitian military officers and select civilian allies and to withdraw or reject visas for their international travel.

President Clinton has said that if Cedras and the others resist, the United States will consider using military force. But he has maintained that he has not made a decision and wants to let the sanctions strategy play out.

But U.S. officials in Washington, as well as diplomats and experts here, say the President is only employing semantics in a political ploy to ease U.S. congressional objections to a major American military invasion here.

"It is not a question of whether there will be an American military intervention here," said a diplomat from another country, "but its size and when it gets here. I think by the time it is all done, we will see several thousand U.S. troops here, even if Cedras leaves tomorrow and (ousted President Jean-Bertrand) Aristide arrives the day after."

"What Clinton will want to do is say (his course of action) is a reconstituted 'Harlan County' and that it doesn't represent any change from what was agreed to at Governors Island," this diplomat said. "I can tell you this will be a far different situation."

He was referring to an agreement signed last July in New York City that provided for the return of Aristide and Cedras' resignation. Among its provisions was a call for a multinational, U.N. military and police advisory group to train a new police force, restructure the army and build roads.

The day the bulk of that force--about 270 unarmed U.S. and Canadian troops--arrived on board the American military cargo ship the Harlan County, a mob of 100 or so men, organized by the Haitian army, rioted to prevent the vessel's docking.

When American officials decided not to risk a confrontation and ordered the Harlan County back to the United States, the whole agreement collapsed; that led the Haitian military to believe the Clinton Administration was not serious about its effort to restore Aristide, who was ousted by Cedras in September, 1991.

"This time," said a diplomat, "there will be at least 600 American troops. They will be heavily armed and there will be a large number of combat troops to protect the advisers and engineers."

Another difference, although one Clinton doesn't favor, will be the force's composition: Although it will be called a U.N. military advisory group, in reality it will be almost entirely an American operation.

The Canadians, who support tougher sanctions but oppose a real military intervention, will provide only about 50 police trainers, officials say, and not troops as before; the trainers won't come here unless Cedras has resigned and left. The French and Venezuelans, who also were involved in the earlier trainer effort, have indicated they will not participate in the military operation.

State Department officials interviewed by telephone in Washington said that they hoped this would change, but that it would not deter the American plan.

"Clinton will argue that he doesn't need any further U.N. or even (U.S.) congressional approval because he will maintain this is just implementing an earlier agreement," one official said. "He also will maintain that the troops will only be armed for self-protection and will not constitute either an invasion or an occupation force--that they are there only to train and build an infrastructure, just as called for in Governors Island."

A diplomat observed that "the Americans feel the end of June is a deadline, even those who argue that the (sanctions) should be given a chance before the military advisers are sent in." The diplomat argued that if the United States has not ousted the Haitian regime shortly thereafter, it "will be faced with a serious international public relations crisis."

He explained that Clinton "does not want to attend a hemispheric summit in Miami in December with either the military still in power or U.S. troops occupying Haiti."

Other officials added that the Americans "think it will take six months to re-establish Aristide, prepare for (parliamentary) elections in December and at least pretend they have reformed the military and created a new, civilian-run police force." That means, said one diplomat, that "if the embargo fails, and nearly all of us think that will be the case," American troops will be here by July 1.

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