PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Foreigners fled Haiti (search) amid looting in parts of the capital Wednesday, but the rebel leader said the insurgents want to "give a chance to peace" and indicated his troops would hold off attacking Port-au-Prince.
Pressure mounted for an international intervention and for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (search) to step down.
A U.N. Security Council meeting on Haiti was scheduled for Thursday. President Bush said the United States is encouraging the international community to provide a strong "security presence," and France said a peace force should be established immediately for deployment once a political agreement is reached.
Foreigners tried to flee the country and isolated looting erupted in the capital. Aristide supporters set dozens of barricades that blocked roads throughout Port-au-Prince (search), though there was no sign of the rebels.
The rebels have overrun half of Haiti including its second-largest city, Cap-Haitien (search), where their leader, Guy Philippe, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they were taking a wait-and-see approach to proposals to send international peacekeepers.
"If they do not attack the Haitian people, we won't attack them," he said. "If they come to help us to remove Mr. Aristide, they will be welcome."
Philippe estimated his rebel force had grown from a couple of hundred to 5,000 with new recruits and more ex-soldiers joining the 3-week-old popular uprising to oust Aristide, and said they were ready to fight.
Asked when they planned to move on Port-au-Prince, he said: "We're ready. We just want to give a chance to peace," indicating they would hold off. "We're ready to talk to anyone. The only one the country doesn't want is Mr. Aristide."
As the rebels plotted their moves, leaders of Haiti's political opposition rejected an international peace plan that diplomats had billed as a last chance for peace, and asked the international community to help ensure a "timely and orderly" departure of Aristide.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin urged the "immediate" establishment of an international civilian force.
"This international force would be responsible for guaranteeing the return to public order and supporting the international community's action on the ground," Villepin said. "It would come to the support of a government of national unity."
Jamaica's U.N. ambassador, Stafford O. Neil, said at the United Nations it might be possible to dispatch a small "interposition force" to keep the rebels and Aristide supporters apart.
One U.N. diplomat noted the rebels can come to Port-au-Prince only by two roads, so placing such a force would be relatively easy and would buy time for a political solution.
De Villepin said he was to meet Friday in Paris with representatives of the government and the opposition. Opposition leader Mischa Gaillard, however, said it was unclear when they would be able to leave Haiti because of the political chaos.
The roadblocks across Port-au-Prince were intended to stop the rebels who began the uprising Feb. 5, but militants at the barricades also used guns and stones to stop cars and steal handbags, luggage and cell phones. Police did not intervene.
Looters struck two warehouses in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday, stealing $200,000 worth of medical equipment and food from one and $300,000 worth of tropical wood from the other.
Overnight, a small fire broke out in a car dealership. A suburban bar was set ablaze, and two nearby shops were vandalized.
American Airlines delayed three of its five daily flights to the United States because crew and passengers were having problems getting through the roadblocks. Air Jamaica canceled its flights to Haiti.
Guy Lockrey, an auto worker from Flint, Mich., abandoned his car at a barricade and headed to the airport on foot with his suitcase when police picked him up.
"We didn't feel any tension until we got close to the capital," said Lockrey, who had been helping to build a church in west-central Haiti.
There was word earlier Wednesday that U.S. Marines, who arrived Monday to protect the U.S. Embassy, would escort a convoy of U.N. personnel, but there was no confirmation that such an operation was undertaken. The United Nations has ordered all nonessential staff and family to leave.
Britain and Australia have urged their citizens to leave, following similar warnings from the United States, France and Mexico. There are about 30,000 foreigners in Haiti, 20,000 of them Americans.
Canada and the Dominican Republic sent small teams of troops to protect their embassies. Canadian Maj. Mike Audette said the Canadians would join soldiers sent Tuesday to prepare for the possible evacuation of more than 1,000 Canadians.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints evacuated the last of its 56 non-Haitian missionaries. "We're hoping to come back when there's peace," said Joel Tougas, a church elder from Deep Cove, Canada.
On Tuesday, Aristide warned that thousands could die if rebels tried to take the capital. At least two men were shot to death Wednesday in Cap-Haitien — one for allegedly looting, another for supporting Aristide, and the Red Cross raised the overall death toll to 80, at least half of them police.
Aristide on Saturday accepted an international peace plan under which he would remain as president but with diminished powers, sharing the government with his political rivals.
It appeared the international community was reconsidering its insistence that Aristide remain president. Two Western diplomats said they and colleagues were preparing a request to ask Aristide to resign.
In his statement, de Villepin stopped just short of calling for Aristide's resignation.
"As far as President Aristide is concerned, he bears grave responsibility for the current situation," de Villepin said. "It's his decision, it's his responsibility. Every one sees that this is about opening a new page in the history of Haiti."
An opposition politician said foreign diplomats told the Democratic Platform not to say that the international community had rejected their counterproposal.
The counterproposal, sent Tuesday to Secretary of State Colin Powell, would install a Supreme Court justice as interim president and ensure Aristide's "orderly departure."
In Washington, the top U.S. envoy for the hemisphere, Roger Noriega, told legislators that if a political solution cannot be reached, "they'll consider many things, they'll consider a whole gamut of options, but they do not want to go in and simply prop up Aristide," according to Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.
Bush indicated an international force may be needed to provide security in Haiti, possibly as a way to enforce a diplomatic and political solution. And he reiterated that the U.S. Coast Guard will turn back any Haitian refugees trying to reach American shores.
Hours later, a freighter with 22 Haitians on board was intercepted by the Coast Guard off the coast of Miami. Coast Guard Lt. Tony Russell would not confirm reports that the boat had been hijacked or that the Haitians were seeking asylum.