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Aristide Mobbed by Admirers, Takes Refuge

October 18, 1994|TRACY WILKINSON and KENNETH FREED | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Proof that Haiti remains extremely volatile was in evidence Monday as friendly but unruly crowds mobbed the car carrying President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and then hurled stones and insults at Haiti's senior military officer, whose family home was torched.

Aristide, making only his second public appearance since being restored to power Saturday, was forced to beat a hasty retreat when his motorcade ventured out of the gates of the Presidential Palace and into a gathering of thousands of people desperate to catch a glimpse of their leader.

Mob violence, meanwhile, continued to take its toll, the hunting down of suspected pro-military gunmen seemed to be on the rise, and new political killings were reported.

The continuing tension and potential for violence and revenge pose a formidable challenge to Aristide's new government even as it prepares to resume work after three years of brutal military rule.

"There's a lot of electricity in the air," an international observer said. "And the temptation is great to take things in your own hands, especially when there is a vacuum of law and order."

Calling again for peace and reconciliation, Aristide attended a brief ceremony Monday morning at the Presidential Palace commemorating the anniversary of the 1806 assassination of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who led Haiti's bloody battle for independence from France. After Aristide's motorcade was forced into retreat, it later left through a back entrance to allow the president to lay a wreath at the National Museum.

Also in attendance was Maj. Gen. Jean-Claude Duperval, the interim head of the Haitian army following the forced retirement last week of strongman Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras. Where Aristide was cheered, Duperval was buffeted with cries of "Thieves!" "Assassins!" His car was pummeled with stones.

Haitians were still angry and unsettled over rumors Sunday night that Duperval was part of a plot to kill Aristide. The rumors began after U.S. troops disarmed Duperval when he reached the palace Sunday for a meeting, and later found grenade launchers in his car.

Roaming through downtown Port-au-Prince on Sunday night, crowds brandishing machetes set up impromptu roadblocks, ostensibly to search for weapons, and dispersed only after U.S. troops using megaphones repeated messages that Aristide was not harmed.

In Gonaives, 100 miles north of Port-au-Prince, angry crowds burned to the ground the home belonging to Duperval's mother and several adjoining properties, U.S. officials said. Radio reports said another home belonging to the grandmother of former junta leader Lt. Col. Michel-Joseph Francois was burned and a grain depot owned by one of Haiti's richest families was looted.

The intervention by American GIs to stop mob violence has become routine. They are frequently called upon to rescue men who are chased and captured by groups searching for attaches --the paramilitary agents who supported the now-dead military regime.

Such a group on Monday cornered a merchant named Guy Barosi after chasing him down John Brown Boulevard, a principal thoroughfare. The crowd said he had guns; Barosi said he was being targeted only because he had accused street people of stealing his car battery.

"There are guns inside!" members of the crowd shouted as they surged outside Barosi's photography shop.

"I have done nothing! They are trying to kill me!" shouted Barosi.

The crowd cheered when American military police in armored personnel carriers arrived. The police treated cuts to Barosi's hand while international police monitors searched his home for guns. None were found, and the crowd was persuaded to disperse.

"We are looking for attaches wherever we think they might be," said Haitian Lissage Casseur, who seemed to be a leader in the group. "Last night, we took one in Carrefour Peillant (a slum). He had an Uzi and other guns. We gave him to the GIs. But he fought us, so we had to wound him in the head."

At one point, members of the crowd argued with the GIs, saying that if they did not disarm backers of the former military regime, the crowd would have to do it.

"Disarmament," shouted one man, "and then reconciliation!"

In a sign that political killings are continuing, two people were hacked to death in the sprawling Port-au-Prince slum of Cite Soleil on Sunday night. There were conflicting reports on the circumstances: Members of Aristide's transition team said the victims were Aristide supporters, while witnesses told reporters one of the dead was a member of FRAPH--the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, a paramilitary squad.

U.S. officials contended that the violence is actually decreasing but is to be expected to continue in a country with a 200-year history of murder and retaliation.

"You are taking snapshots . . . of isolated incidents," U.S. Embassy spokesman Stanley Schrager told reporters. "For those of you here one week, or two weeks or four weeks, there has been since Sept. 19th a lower level of violence than before. . . . We think it will continue to be reduced as the military is professionalized and a new police force is established."

Also Monday, U.S. officials outlined a $200-million multilateral aid program for Haiti over the next five months. It will include humanitarian aid and support for democratic institutions and infrastructure.

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