Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

7 Killed as Haitian Gunmen Disperse Marchers in Street : Caribbean: Demonstrations celebrating the expected end of three-year military rule disintegrate under attacks by police, armed helpers. U.S. troops do not intervene.

October 01, 1994|KENNETH FREED and MARK FINEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A mass demonstration celebrating the expected end of three years of brutal military rule here disintegrated into despair and death Friday as U.S. troops ceded the city's heart to Haitian police and armed thugs. At least seven people died, including two apparent members of the paramilitary forces.

Despite the presence of more than 20,000 American troops brought to Haiti to secure order and protect followers of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide as the military leaves power, key streets on the demonstration route were taken over by the most vicious anti-Aristide forces--the Haitian police and their armed civilian helpers.

The Haitian forces used American-made M-16 assault rifles, nail-studded clubs and glistening machetes to beat and shoot at the peaceful marchers.

The demonstration had been organized by supporters of Aristide, who was overthrown in a bloody coup on Sept. 30, 1991, and is scheduled to return to power under an agreement negotiated Sept. 18 that promised an end to military rule by Oct. 15.

Friday's killings took place at the same site where a death squad shot and killed a bystander watching a pro-democracy demonstration just two days earlier. And near the spot where a grenade blast killed five people Thursday, a crowd of hundreds on Friday looted a Cash and Carry food store.

The day had started uncertainly but emotionally. Thousands of Haitians gathered on the fringes of downtown Port-au-Prince, still cautious from several days of scattered violence that included looting of food warehouses and the grenade attack.

Although street merchants set up stalls, most businesses were shuttered, and few cars ventured into downtown. The American troop positions that created a horseshoe-shaped cordon around the city center drew crowds of generally happy people.

The demonstrations began with a highly charged Mass in the early morning at the city's Notre Dame Basilica, to be followed by a series of marches to the central cemetery. There, speeches would honor the estimated 3,000 Haitians killed by the military during its brutal turn in power and a mock funeral for the regime would be staged.

Amid Haitian hymns of forgiveness and reconciliation, Father Jean Juiste, a key ally of Aristide, beseeched more than 2,000 parishioners sitting in the church to remain peaceful, even if attacked.

"Our march this morning will not be against anybody," the eloquent priest said from the pulpit. "It is for the blood that has flowed three long years ago, and to make sure that blood is used to nurture a new life for Haiti.

"If during that march, if trouble occurs, you must show you are mature, or there will be a disaster."

A few hours later, Father Juiste was in the street, waving his hands, appealing to U.S. soldiers to intervene to stop the killing of marchers.

The parade route sent the demonstrators into an area controlled by the Front for the Advance and Progress of Haiti, a notorious death squad known by its French initials as FRAPH, only a block from the Haitian National Palace and the Haitian military headquarters.

About two dozen FRAPH members then precipitated a series of street fights that lasted until late afternoon. Though their force was small, they easily drove off demonstrators who approached.

On at least four occasions, pickup trucks carrying armed, uniformed Haitian police took FRAPH members aboard and carried them toward the demonstrators. The armed civilians leaped from the trucks and assaulted the marchers, then climbed back aboard and were hauled back to FRAPH headquarters.

Under attack, most of the demonstrators never reached their destination, the city's main cemetery that is the burial site of many of the 3,000 people who human rights groups say have been killed under military rule. They ran in panic when the shootings and beatings began.

When remnants of the marchers--numbering only 30 or 40--did reach the cemetery, they were forced to flee again when more shots were fired from across the street.

Six of the dead were seen by an American reporter in the immediate vicinity of an office and bar controlled by Haiti's police chief, Lt. Col. Michel-Joseph Francois, and used by FRAPH.

The violence went well beyond attacks on demonstrators. Among the dead was a Haitian described as a driver for an American television network. Although a foreigner who was with him was let go, the Haitian was killed with a shot to the head and two more to the chest as he tried to hide on a porch.

Two other men described by witnesses as demonstrators were chased down by FRAPH members who trapped them in a doorway a block and a half from the FRAPH office. One was killed with an M-1 military rifle, the other with a pistol.

Two more bodies were found in a doorway less than a block from the FRAPH office. A sixth death came when a FRAPH member who had shot two of the demonstrators was turned upon and beaten to death with a wrecking bar.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|