PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with U.S. commanders and troops Saturday in Haiti, and warned Haitians engaged in politically related violence that they risk the wrath of the Americans and their comrades-in-arms.
"The multinational interim force will not tolerate violence against the multinational force nor violence against Haitian civilians," Myers said.
"If there is to be hope for the Haitian people, there must be security and stability in this country. And those that are still taking up arms, that are causing this violence, that are planning more violence, will be dealt with appropriately," he said.
On the eve of Myers' visit, a U.S. Marine patrol came under fire from gunmen in the slum district of Bel Air, where support for former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is strong. The Marines returned fire and killed two assailants, said Army Maj. Rich Crusan, a U.S. military spokesman.
Myers, an Air Force general and the highest-ranking member of the U.S. armed forces, said he added a stop in Haiti at the end of a five-day trip to Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Chile so he could "see the situation" for himself.
Myers met with Marines, Navy and Air Force personnel and commanders of other foreign forces deployed in Haiti, and was taken on a helicopter tour of the capital's port.
U.S. forces were sent to this Caribbean nation after Aristide's resignation and departure on Feb. 29, an event that was preceded and followed by widespread civil unrest. The goal of the American troops, as well as other military contingents sent by France, Chile and Canada, is to stabilize the situation until a U.N. peacekeeping force can be sent, Myers said.
"Security and stability is important for the Haitian people, as well as this entire hemisphere," the general, the most senior American official to visit Haiti since Aristide's flight, said at a news conference before departing for the United States.
Myers stressed that American troops and the other foreign forces here would not take sides in Haiti's politics.
He and U.S. Ambassador James Foley, who attended the news conference, expressed great wariness about the potential consequences of Aristide's reported intention to return to the Caribbean this week. The Jamaican government has said Aristide and his wife, now in the Central African Republic, had been invited by Prime Minister P.J. Patterson to be reunited with their two young daughters.
"If that increases the violence here, then that would be extremely unhelpful," Myers said.
"There is negative potential, there is no denying that," Foley said. "And it must be said that Jamaican authorities are, I think, taking a certain risk and certainly a certain responsibility."
Gerard Latortue, who was officially installed Friday as Haiti's interim prime minister, has called his Jamaican counterpart's action an "unfriendly gesture."
Since then, Jamaican officials have insisted that they will not let their island to be used as a platform by Aristide to attempt a return to power and said the former Haitian president's stay will not exceed 10 weeks.