PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Gerard Latortue (search), a once-exiled former foreign minister chosen to lead Haiti out of political turmoil, returned from the United States on Wednesday to begin the arduous task of building a government. Loyalists of the former president said they wouldn't accept him.
His arrival came as the U.S. military announced an escalation in its mission in the Caribbean nation, promising Marines will move quickly to stop violence among Haitians.
"They will intervene to protect life," Gen. James T. Hill, commander of U.S. Southern Command, told reporters at the Pentagon.
Since Sunday, Marines have killed at least four Haitians, including a driver who sped toward a checkpoint and a gunman who fired on a demonstration. On Tuesday, the American troops fatally shot two Haitians who opened fire near the outgoing prime minister's private residence.
After walking off a plane that brought him from Florida, Latortue said his top priorities were security, justice, decentralization of power and organizing elections.
"I came here with my mind open to work with everyone in Haiti (search)," he said. "I'm not a member of any political party."
Once critical of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (search), he has said his first priority will be to unite a population divided between those who oppose the former leader and supporters who want to see him returned to power.
He also said he would rely on retired army Lt. Gen. Herard Abraham to enforce security and said he wanted to offer money to those willing to disarm.
Aristide fled Feb. 29 amid international pressure to step down and a bloody rebellion that left more than 300 dead. The once popular slum priest, elected on promises to champion the poor, lost support as Haitians accused his government of corruption and attacks against his political opponents.
In the Central African Republic (search), Aristide still maintained he is the legitimate leader of Haiti and that U.S. officials forced him from office. On Wednesday, his lawyers said they were preparing cases accusing authorities in the United States and France of abducting him and forcing him into exile.
U.S. officials have denied they forced Aristide from office, saying they helped him escape Haiti with his life as rebels advanced on the capital.
Staff Sgt. Timothy Edwards said Marines were patrolling near the private residence of outgoing Prime Minister Yvon Neptune on Tuesday when they were shot at. The Marines fired back and killed at least two gunmen, he said. No peacekeepers were wounded.
The gunmen's bodies were not recovered, but that is common. Peacekeepers must call health authorities to collect the remains, and family members sometimes take bodies away before they can be reported.
In a separate incident, several people got out of a car late Tuesday and opened fire on Marines, who shot back, U.S. Maj. Richard Crusan said. Three people then fled on foot, he said.
A body was still on the sidewalk early Wednesday near where the shooting occurred. Crusan and others refused to say whether the victim, who had been shot in the head, was involved.
Many Aristide supporters were angry over Tuesday's decision by the U.S.-backed advisory council to name Latortue prime minister.
"He doesn't understand the reality of the country," said Jacques Pierre, 49. "He doesn't understand our hunger."
The 69-year-old Latortue spent 25 years in exile during the 29-year Duvalier family dictatorship, which ended in 1986. He became foreign minister in 1988 for former President Leslie Manigat, who was toppled in a military coup.
After his arrival Wednesday, he said he understands Haiti's problems even though he hasn't been living in the country.
"We who are living outside the country may not suffer the same kind of pain," he said. "But we feel it just as much when we see the wounds caused by what's happening in the country."
Latortue spent part of his career with the U.N. Industrial Development Organization in Africa, and also worked as an international business consultant in Miami. Most recently, he has been living in Boca Raton, Fla., but has returned to visit Haiti several times a year.
Latortue and interim President Boniface Alexandre will begin organizing elections and building a new government for Haiti. Under Aristide, the prime minister's position was largely ceremonial.
It was unclear whether Neptune, who was appointed by Aristide, would remain in Haiti.
Latortue said he would either restructure the police or reconstitute the army to improve security, said Anne-Marie Issa, a member of the council that picked Latortue.
Haiti's army, which ousted Aristide months after he became the nation's first freely elected president in 1990, was disbanded in 1995 after a U.S. invasion restored Aristide to power.
Aristide has been staying in the presidential palace in the Central African Republic since March 1. On Wednesday, a South African delegation visited him there to discuss his long-term asylum plans, Foreign Minister Charles Wenezoui told The Associated Press.
After the visit, South Africa Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad said the African Union -- an organization representing 53 African nations -- should arrange Aristide's long-term asylum plans.