Haiti peace plan fades
BY MICHAEL DEIBERT
February 24, 2004, 10:06 PM EST
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- A U.S.-backed deal to solve Haiti's violent power struggle appeared all but dead Tuesday and supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide continued to build barricades in the streets of the capital against a threatened attack by rebel gangs and former soldiers.
Aristide, desperate for foreign intervention to save his government, warned of a bloodbath and a flood of refugees should the rebels enter Port-au-Prince. Rebels of what now is called the National Resistance Front to Liberate Haiti are "terrorists and killers," Aristide told reporters. "Should ... come to Port-au-Prince, you may have thousands of people who may be killed."
The dim prospects for any kind of negotiated settlement weakened further as Aristide's political op
position all but ruled out further negotiation on a power-sharing deal proposed by the United States, France and Caribbean states. Members of the Democratic Platform, a coalition of political, business, peasant and student leaders hostile to Aristide, failed to announce a final decision on the deal, saying they would do so Wednesday morning.
Aristide accepted the deal, which calls on him to appoint a new prime minister and cabinet, and to permit new elections. But in discussions Tuesday, "we were rejecting any proposal that didn't include Mr. Aristide's departure," said Hans Tippenhauer, a spokesman for the Democratic Platform. He said the group likely would press for a March 8 deadline for Aristide's resignation, despite pressure from the international community.
In New York, Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton said Aristide and opposition leaders had accepted Sharpton's offer to make a new effort to broker a peace deal, The Associated Press reported. He said he was considering wh
ether to fly to Port-au-Prince, an intervention unlikely to be welcomed by the Bush administration.
Aristide conceded the latest blow to his authority, saying rebels overran the northern city of Port-de-Paix Monday night, two days after seizing Haiti's second-largest city, Cap-Haitien.
The rebels "went to the northwest of the country, killing innocent people," Aristide said. "We may have more Haitians leaving by boat to Florida."
After a 1991 coup which ousted Aristide during his first term as president, thousands of Haitians took to boats, fleeing violence and poverty under the military junta that replaced him. The arrival of thousands of Haitians in Florida forced the Clinton administration to send troops to restore Aristide to office in 1994.
A significant number of the current rebels are former soldiers from that military, which U.S. troops and Aristide disbanded 10 years ago.
Amid rumors that rebel forces were headed for Port-au-Prince, black-clad, machine-toting Haiti
an SWAT police took up positions around the capital's airport. Partisans of Aristide continued to man roadblocks guarding the northern approaches to the city.
"We are blocking the road because they want to attack Aristide," shouted 22-year-old Sonny Anderson, wearing a purple beret. He and a dozen other young men guarded a roadblock constructed of tires, public buses and a fuel delivery truck. "Aristide is the king!" he declared.
Behind Haiti's National Palace, pro-government partisans known as chimeres lounged, holding assault rifles and drinking beer. Graffiti on a nearby courthouse urged, "Aristide, cut off the heads and burn down the houses of the bourgeoisie!" That echoed a rallying cry used by slaves when they overthrew French colonial rule 200 years ago.
At a gate of the National Palace, hundreds of people noisily demonstrated their support for Aristide throughout the afternoon. "We chose Aristide for five years!" shouted Freline Zephirin, an activist with a group called Radical
Women in Action. "We will defend him to the death."
Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.
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