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Cedras Resigns in Haiti, Ending Brutal Regime : Caribbean: Military leader, chief of staff quit under U.S. pressure. Move clears way for return of Aristide.

October 11, 1994|KENNETH FREED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras quit as army commander Monday, ending three years of brutal and corrupt military dictatorship that left Haiti in an economic coma and occupied by foreign troops.

Reacting to intense U.S. pressure, Cedras submitted his resignation just two days short of the formal end of his three-year term as Haiti's military chief and five days before the expected return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the man the army drove from office Sept. 30, 1991.

The act heartened the U.S. government, which has had an off-and-on relationship with Cedras over the years, praising him for his role in guaranteeing the 1989 election that brought Aristide to office and then condemning him for overthrowing the nation's first democratically elected president.

"We welcome the resignation of Gen. Cedras," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Stanley Shrager. "His anticipated departure represents the end of a sad chapter of Haitian history.

"The past three years," Shrager said, "have brought unlimited suffering to the Haitian people, who have known more than their share of tragedy, witnessed more than their share of death and lost more than their share of hope.

"Those days are over, and the return of President Aristide on Oct. 15 opens a new page and a brighter future for the people of this nation."

Accompanying the military commander in his loss of power was Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby, the army chief of staff. Biamby, who had told friends he would die before quitting, submitted his resignation to Cedras on Saturday and disappeared from sight.

Cedras also indicated he would leave Haiti, although he left open when he would go and where.

"I am officially giving up the responsibility of the military institution," he said in brief and almost inaudible departing remarks. "I have decided to leave our country."

U.S. officials had pushed Cedras not only to surrender his title before the week's end but to go into exile, even offering to fly him to one of several countries offering him repose.

Cedras was permitted a brief ceremony Monday morning to turn over his office to interim commander Maj. Gen. Jean-Claude Duperval.

But in what U.S. officials acknowledged was a clear effort at humiliating Cedras and displaying his dependence on U.S. troops, the ritual was held on a barricaded side street next to the military headquarters, with only a small honor guard, army band and about 50 American troops acting as guards inside the roped-off perimeter.

The sound system was so poor that even people standing 20 feet away couldn't hear Cedras tell his forces that they will be judged by history as having done their jobs.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Hugh Shelton, commander of the 19,000 U.S. troops virtually occupying Haiti, sat off to the side, chewing gum and appearing to pay more attention to the crowd outside the barricades than to Cedras. Shelton stood only when Cedras turned over his flag to Duperval.

Duperval, a 47-year-old military academy classmate of both Cedras and Biamby, then spoke, and his remarks also were largely unheard by the crowd. But what he did say was significant, at least in terms of recognizing that the old days of arbitrary military behavior are over.

Speaking of the presence of the U.S. troops as "serene," the portly Duperval, who is unlikely to become Aristide's permanent army commander, said, "I hope for an army of the people, a united army that respects law, discipline, life and the personal rights of the people."

What could be heard clearly during the ritual were curses and derisive chants from the 3,000 jeering Haitians gathered on the fringes--mostly obscenities directed at Cedras. They also shouted "Shelton! Shelton!" and waved American flags, some with Aristide's portrait superimposed on the stars and stripes.

And stronger things than curses were flung at Cedras as he left the 25-minute ceremony--rocks broke his car window, resulting in at least two bursts of warning shots fired by the general's bodyguard.

Both Cedras and Biamby, along with former police chief Lt. Col. Michel-Joseph Francois, were required to leave office no later than Saturday under an agreement reached last month with former President Jimmy Carter.

Francois, who most sources say organized the 1991 coup and dragged a reluctant and indecisive Cedras along at the last minute, left first, resigning last Tuesday and fleeing to the neighboring Dominican Republic.

Cedras formally submitted his resignation Sunday to Emile Jonassaint, the last of two puppet civilian presidents he installed during his rule.

Cedras wanted to stay until Wednesday and exit in a formal ceremony on the wide lawns of the Presidential Palace that would project honor and dignity. Shelton originally agreed to that, U.S. military sources said, as a gesture to a fellow officer and in appreciation for the cooperation pledged by Cedras when the American forces arrived three weeks ago.

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