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CRISIS IN THE CARIBBEAN : Haitians Cheer U.S. Show of Force : Occupation: 'You have delivered us from hell,' declares one bystander as American troops converge on militia's headquarters.

October 04, 1994|MARK FINEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — "You are sent from God!" screamed Nasal Aristil from across the street just before 10 a.m. Monday as two Sheridan M155 tanks blanketed with American troops lowered their gun barrels at the headquarters of Haiti's dreaded paramilitary known as FRAPH.

Within seconds, dozens of combat soldiers from the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division leaped from trucks, jeeps, armed Humvees and five tanks. They swarmed the building, sweeping the street with U.S. Marine Criminal Intelligence officers, searching scores of Haitians, confiscating more than 20 pistols and 10 rifles and finally handcuffing and detaining about two dozen suspected members of one of Haiti's most hated state terrorist groups.

"You have delivered us from hell," Aristil declared as thousands of Haitians, among them victims of the group's brutality, chanted, "Long live the Americans!" to the troops and "Die like dogs!" to their former tormentors.

In storming the small, three-building complex with a fearsome column of armor and without a shot, the U.S. force in Haiti had scored its first major victory in an intensifying psychological war after two weeks of violence and confusion left many Haitians wondering why the Americans are here.

U.S. Army Specialist Malcolm Abel, one of the first soldiers to hit the two-story FRAPH headquarters, summed it up as he prepared to pull out. "I guess we took care of the bad part of the block," Abel said, beaming and pumping with adrenalin. "I think the Haitians who had mixed emotions about us being here are going to be on our side now."

A cheering mob of impoverished Haitians who had watched the spectacle with awe and applause expressed that sentiment another way. In a half-hour orgy of destruction, they demolished the place, tearing into the headquarters of a group whose acronym means "hit" in French and Creole. They smashed telephones, cameras, desks, chairs and every last stick of furniture.

One member of the American assault team summed up the feelings of many: "All I can say is, it's about time," the sergeant said. "We should have done this days ago--before these thugs killed again. And I think we should be doing even more right now."

The reaction on both sides made clear that Monday's raid was the most powerful demonstration yet by U.S. commanders that they are serious about dismantling Haiti's military regime before they usher in ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The search and seizure dealt Haiti's lingering regime its biggest blow since the day the American troops arrived.

Moments after the raid was launched, a van packed with armed Haitian policemen apparently summoned by desperate members inside the FRAPH building sped to the scene. A squad of American troops faced them down and arrested all seven, handcuffed them, taped their mouths shut and forced them to sit in an open truck near the crowd for an hour of insults, curses and threats.

By day's end, Haitian policemen throughout the city were furious and demoralized. One of the arrested officers, identified only as Lt. Jackie, burned his uniform out of humiliation after he and the others were released. And at Haitian police headquarters, a sergeant muttered, "The Americans obviously don't want us here anymore."

Neither did anyone in the crowd, whose explosion of sheer emotion underscored the power and magic of the day.

"I want to eat this woman!" screamed Foufoune Exavier, 18, jabbing her mangled and stitched right hand in the direction of one of the four FRAPH women the soldiers had handcuffed in the open troop truck. "That dog! She's the one who threw the grenade that did this to me last week."

At one point, a U.S. soldier offered a water canteen to prisoners on the truck.

"Don't give them water! Beat them instead!" shouted Patrick Paul, who said he had been arrested and beaten twice by FRAPH members in the past year.

"Don't take them away! Give them to us! We'll run them through with a sword," the crowd chanted, as the trucks started their engines to leave.

The scene after the soldiers left was even more chilling.

"Here's a FRAPH! He's hiding here!" shouted someone in the crowd. In seconds, hundreds descended on the helpless man, who was later identified as Vilneus Saint-Ange. They pummeled him, kicked him and dragged him toward the steps of the church.

"Beat him to death," dozens yelled.

The MPs on the scene intervened. They calmly worked their way through the crowd, lifted Saint-Ange from the mob's clutches and carried him to safety, shielded beside their Humvee.

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