PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A rogue band of armed men pushing for revival of Haiti's military are refusing to disband and clear out of old military bases, the leaders of the group said Tuesday, despite repeated orders from the government.
In a news conference at an army barracks just outside Haiti's capital, several veterans of the defunct army said Haitian officials broke a promise by failing to appoint them to the helm of an interim force until the military is officially reinstated.
"We've decided that we're not going to back down," said former Sgt. Larose Aubin, who was flanked by a mix of ex-soldiers and younger recruits. "We're not going to keep doing press conferences."
Aubin and the other former officers made their strongest demand yet since they began recruiting men and a few women a year ago with the hope that the armed force disbanded in 1995 would be reinstated. President Michel Martelly raised their hopes further by saying as a candidate, and then in office, that he would bring back the military, a goal that has met opposition from Western embassies.
The Haitian government has repeatedly ordered the former soldiers and their followers, which number about 3,500, to vacate the old bases they seized several months ago, but it has taken no concrete action. Since then, the rogue force has paraded around the country in pickup trucks and carried weapons as if on patrol.
Last week, about 50 men in military fatigues, some of them armed, disrupted a legislative session when they showed up to speak to lawmakers about the government's plans for them.
Their presence has become increasingly worrisome to Western diplomats, who have described the armed men as "paramilitary elements."
The United Nations' envoy to Haiti, Mariano Fernandez, called the parliament incident "an unacceptable act of intimidation."
Police Chief Mario Andresol said on Haitian radio Monday that the country has only one public security force, the national police department, along with the U.N. peacekeeping mission.
On Tuesday, leaders of the band said they had met with senior officials who agreed to appoint them to the high command of an interim force until the government officially restores the army by decree. They also said they expected a response from Haitian authorities within 72 hours, but instead heard over the radio that the government ordered them to leave the bases.
The Interior Ministry said it plans on Wednesday to give back pay to former soldiers who can show proof that they served in the military. The ex-soldiers have long argued they are entitled to $15 million in lost wages and pensions.
But the group of ex-soldiers said they have no intention of showing up, pointing to an earlier effort by the government that proved futile.
"We're telling them that the army must return," Aubin said. "Liberty or death. Victory will be for us no matter what."
Reached by telephone, Justice Minister Michel Brunache declined to comment.