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U.S. Reverses Policy, Raids Haiti Militia HQ

October 04, 1994|KENNETH FREED and MARK FINEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — American soldiers backed by tanks and heavy machine guns Monday raided the offices of a paramilitary group that had terrorized downtown Port-au-Prince in recent days while U.S. troops looked on without interfering.

But they interfered Monday, and in force.

Reversing a policy that law-and-order matters would be left to the Haitian military and police, American commander Lt. Gen. Hugh Shelton sent U.S. troops in shortly before 10 a.m. to the cheers of fast-gathering crowds that soon numbered in the thousands.

Guided by a red smoke marker, hundreds of armed assault troops of the 10th Mountain Division, along with at least five Sheridan M155 tanks, rolled up in front of the Normandy Bar, which is part of a three-building complex on the Rue Champs de Mars that serves as the downtown office of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti.

Commonly called FRAPH, the group was created and is armed and directed by Haiti's military. According to diplomatic and intelligence sources, FRAPH, which first appeared in August, 1993, has been a civilian cover for the thousands of killings, beatings and other brutalities committed against foes of the armed forces.

The Normandy Bar, notorious as a thug recruitment hall, was the center of street fighting from Wednesday until Saturday between FRAPH members and demonstrators celebrating the scheduled return of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

At least six people were killed near the FRAPH office during the fighting, which was ignored by the 20,000 American troops sent here to establish order for Aristide's return and take power from the military regime that has ruled Haiti since taking over Sept. 30, 1991.

"There is no FRAPH separate from (army commander Lt. Gen. Raoul) Cedras and (Police Chief Michel-Joseph) Francois," said one Haitian political source. "They kill on their orders and they sit at the Normandy on their orders."

None of the two dozen or so men and women playing dominoes and drinking raw rum on the porch of the tattered white and blue Normandy Bar, and in the abutting two-story office building, offered any resistance. All were arrested.

U.S. troops confiscated some weapons, including three guns pulled from one woman's underclothes during a search by a female American soldier.

Also arrested, at least temporarily, were seven Haitian policemen who had answered a distress call from the FRAPH members and confronted the U.S. forces with guns at the ready. Those Haitians, who earlier had been described by Shelton as responsible for maintaining order in the FRAPH neighborhood, were disarmed and let go.

About two hours after the raid began, the Americans rolled up the razor wire used to keep the crowds at bay and began pulling out. The demonstrators hugged the departing Americans, exchanging high-five signs and shouting, "Liberty, Liberty! Good job, good job!"

As soon as the tanks and troop transports were out of sight, the cheers turned to howls as the crowd, now a mob, began what is known as dechoukaj . A Creole word that means roughly "uprooting," dechoukaj in Haiti connotes total destruction.

The U.S. troops knew what was coming. One well-dressed woman edged up to an American sergeant. "You shouldn't let them do this," she said. "They'll destroy everything."

The sergeant, his face red from the sun and his uniform soaked from sweat, looked at her. "Maybe they'll learn next time not to shoot their own people," he said.

Senior commanders at the scene indicated they expected the throng that gathered outside their perimeter to set upon the building the moment they left. They left anyway.

Another sergeant said his commanders wanted the people "to vent a little."

"We had a feeling this might happen, but we got to get them back to minding their Ps and Qs," he said.

For nearly 40 minutes between the departure of the raid force and the arrival of a small American military police detachment that came to restore some order, the mob surged into the buildings with a furious joy.

The crowd broke everything in sight, tearing out air-conditioning units, carrying out photocopying machines, splintering furniture and shattering every window.

The arrival of the MPs stopped the dechoukaj .

By late afternoon, all the U.S. troops were gone, but 1,000 or so Haitians milled about in front of the gutted Normandy, spitting on FRAPH literature and stomping on flyers showing the pictures of Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude, leaders of a dictatorial family that ruled Haiti for nearly 30 years.

Army intelligence officers said most of those arrested Monday were involved in the street battles and that at least one took part in killing two of the six people who died in the FRAPH fighting.

Another Army unit raided a second FRAPH office in the huge slum neighborhood of Carrefour on the southern edge of Port-au-Prince. The office was vacant and no arms were found.

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