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Rebel Leader in Haiti Says His Work Is Done

Philippe promises that his forces will bow out. Foreign troops prepare to provide security, and Caribbean nations want an inquiry into ouster.

March 04, 2004|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — As Marines in Humvees began patrolling this capital, rebel leader Guy Philippe declared his mission accomplished Wednesday and said his forces would lay down their arms now that Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had fled into exile.

More than 2,000 soldiers from nations including the United States, France, Canada and Chile have arrived in Haiti since Aristide left the country Sunday, but Port-au-Prince has continued to be plagued by looting, destruction and revenge killings.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Marine commander here said foreign forces were ready to begin stepping into the security void and protecting Haitians.

Caribbean nations, however, said they would refrain from taking part in the peacekeeping effort, in protest of what they saw as the unsavory role played by unnamed Western countries -- presumably France and the United States -- in Aristide's ouster.

The 15-nation Caribbean Community, or Caricom, which includes Haiti, had pushed the U.N. Security Council to send an international protection force to Haiti three days before Aristide fled for exile in Africa, but the plea was rebuffed. After his departure, the council quickly approved an international stabilization force and Marines began arriving.

"We could not fail to observe that what was impossible on Thursday could be accomplished in an emergency meeting on Sunday. We are disappointed in the extreme at the failure to act," P.J. Patterson, Jamaica's prime minister, said on behalf of the Caricom nations. The group also called for the United Nations or some other independent body to investigate the circumstances of Aristide's departure.

Aristide, who became Haiti's first democratically elected president in 1990, has accused the United States of forcing him out in what he called a "modern kidnapping" and a "modern coup d'etat." Haiti's neighbors believe he was coerced into fleeing.

The leader, who was deposed in a 1991 coup, left Sunday as Philippe's rebels advanced on the capital, vowing to capture him and put him on trial on charges of corruption and human rights abuses.

Washington and Paris, fearing a bloodbath if the rebels and armed street gangs loyal to the president confronted each other, strongly suggested that Aristide resign for the good of the country.

In Washington on Wednesday, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America defended the administration's decision not to shield Aristide from the rebels, saying the United States should not risk its soldiers' lives for failing governments.

Appearing before a House subcommittee, Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega said that although the United States cannot choose which foreign governments it must deal with, "we do have to decide where we put American lives at risk," and it should not put them in danger "merely to keep [governments] in power a little bit longer."

The choice should be based on "whether we think it's a viable, sustainable investment for American foreign policy," Noriega said. He also described Aristide as "not a reliable person."

Though the administration dropped its support of Aristide, it has said it did not believe the rebels should have a role in Haiti's future government. Some among Philippe's Front for the Liberation of Haiti are convicted killers and war crimes suspects, and international human rights groups have been demanding their arrest and prosecution.

Philippe was summoned to the residence of U.S. Ambassador James B. Foley early Wednesday and told to make good on his pledges to disarm and leave Port-au-Prince as soon as Aristide was driven from power.

Marine Col. Mark Gurganus also conferred with Philippe.

"We asked him to honor what he said he would do and lay down his weapons," said Gurganus, who met with the rebel leader for about 10 minutes. "I asked him to help contribute to the stability, and I will tell you I was very happy with his response. I think he'll be a man of honor and I think he'll do what he said."

Philippe, who just a day earlier had proclaimed himself commandant of a resurrected Haitian army, said his group would bow out of the capital now that troops of the multinational security force were deployed and had promised to protect the Haitian people.

"We have decided to lay down our arms," Philippe told journalists at a hotel that has been his base. "The front from now on has no men patrolling the streets."

Philippe said his men would turn their arms over to interim President Boniface Alexandre, the former Supreme Court chief justice sworn in three hours after Aristide departed. It was unclear when, however.

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