Haitian Rebel Leader Disavows Dictatorship

Published February 25, 2004

| Associated Press

The leader of a motley band of rebels threatening to take over Haiti said Tuesday he does not want to install a military dictatorship and indicated he has made informal contact with an opposition coalition also demanding President Jean-Bertrand Aristide step down.

Guy Philippe (search), a former army officer and Aristide's former assistant police chief for northern Haiti, said in an interview with The Associated Press that his movement wants to re-establish the army that ousted Aristide and was disbanded after U.S. troops restored Aristide to power in 1994, but said it should not rule Haiti.

"It's not good for the country," Philippe insisted. "The military should stay in the barracks."

Philippe, youthful looking at 35, was busying himself Tuesday directing the insurgency. It had a cobbled-together feel, but Philippe's ambitions are not small.

"I am the commander in chief," he said bluntly.

At one point, he dashed off to the Western Union (search) office in this northern city, which the rebels captured on Sunday, saying he needed to pick up wired donations from Haitians in the United States and Canada. Businessmen in Haiti were also funding the rebellion, he said.

On Monday night, Philippe and his commanders disappeared from the Hotel Mont Joli, where they have been staying to check out reports that Aristide militants were regrouping on Labadie Beach, normally a hangout of cruise ship tourists. The fighters found no militants and returned Tuesday.

Philippe, wearing a crisp camouflage uniform over a white T-shirt, said he is sending orders to outlying areas by motorcycle messenger. The rebels cut cell phone service in Cap-Haitien (search) and landline service to Port-au-Prince, saying they want to sever communications with the capital.

Residents sought out Philippe, seeking assurances their city would not plunge into anarchy and chaos.

An orange grower said he was worried what would happen when the rebels leave. Philippe assured him he was making the city his operations base.

In the wake of the rebel takeover, some of Cap-Haitien's 500,000 residents went on a rampage of looting and torching. On Monday, rebels fired shots to chase away looters and by Tuesday it had abated.

Some rebels guarded shipping containers at the seaport, which had been plundered. Rebels also began patrolling in pickup trucks and stood guard at street corners.

Philippe needed only 200 fighters to capture Cap-Haitien, as the police fled in droves.

He told AP that more than 150 "ordinary civilians" of Cap-Haitien had joined the rebels, who have put more than half of Haiti and half its 8 million people beyond the control of the central government.

"We're training them to shoot," Philippe said of the volunteers.

Asked if he was in contact with opposition politicians also demanding Aristide's resignation and who have been speaking with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Philippe smiled and said "not officially." He refused to give details.

Opposition leaders said they had no contacts with the rebels or Aristide: "We don't want to be tainted with any suspicion of condoning violence," said Mischa Gaillard.

Aristide maintains that opposition factions are supporting the rebellion and that the rebels are an armed wing of the political opposition.

Like Aristide, Philippe said he grew up in a peasant family, near the southwestern town of Jeremie, and can empathize with the plight of those struggling to make a living in the Western hemisphere's most impoverished nation.

"I know what it is like to be poor," he said. "I understand the people's struggle."

Philippe joined the rebellion a week after it was started in Gonaives by a street gang that used to terrorize Aristide's opponents and turned on Haiti's president after its leader was assassinated.

Philippe came from neighboring Dominican Republic, where he fled in 2000 amid charges he was plotting a coup. With him was Louis-Jodel Chamblain, co-leader of a feared army death squad that murdered hundreds of Haitians under military rule 1991-1994.

The Haitian military has a history of ruling with brutality, but Philippe insisted that under his command, things would change.

"We will not execute anyone," he said. "I promise."

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