PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A Haitian government effort Wednesday to register hundreds of veterans so they can receive pensions and back pay failed to demobilize a band of rogue soldiers whose presence is becoming an embarrassment to the Caribbean nation and its United Nations peacekeeping mission.
The rogue group of ex-soldiers and their young recruits has defied repeated orders from the administration of President Michel Martelly to clear out the former military barracks they've seized in recent months. Their increasingly visible presence has heightened tensions as they parade around the capital in military fatigues and carry automatic rifles.
The Haitian government and the U.N. mission say they recognize the country's police force as its lone public security force but authorities have taken no action to disband the rogue soldiers aside from forming a panel to study the matter.
The group includes an estimated 3,500 former soldiers and followers too young to have served in the military. Some of them operate from an army barracks in the district of Carrefour just outside Haiti's capital.
"We will address those guys in Carrefour later," Reginald Delva, the Haitian secretary of state for public security, told The Associated Press at the pension registration. "Hopefully, we will do it peacefully. We will offer them an opportunity to get a job, especially for the young guys."
Martelly raised the hopes of former soldiers hoping to re-enlist when he said as a candidate and later as president that he would reinstate the army, despite opposition from Western diplomats who thought money for the army would be better spent on the understaffed police force.
For the past year, hundreds of ex-soldiers have been training in camps. A few months ago, they took over the old military bases without opposition from the government. They've since paraded around the capital, in front of police, and the U.N.'s top envoy to Haiti has called them an "unnecessary provocation."
Under pressure from the U.N., Haitian officials set up a panel almost two months ago to figure out how to get the armed men out of the bases. Leaders of the rogue army say they won't leave until they are appointed to an interim military before Martelly officially reinstates the force.
One of the rogue group's leaders, former Sgt. Larose Aubin, said by telephone that the band wouldn't participate because the government broke its promise to give them senior positions in an interim security force.
"We are not going to take part in this," Aubin said.
The government for years has struggled to compensate the several thousand veterans who served in the armed force, which was abolished in 1995 because of its abusive past. An estimated 7,500 soldiers were dismissed, and they have argued they are entitled to millions of dollars in pension and back pay.
"They have to compensate us immediately," Remy Jerome, 44, a five-year veteran who carried an ID card that crinkled at the edges, said as he waited to register for his compensation. "We were serving the nation."
Heeding a call from the Interior Ministry, hundreds of veterans showed up Wednesday with their old ID cards to collect their pay at a former military academy in Haiti's capital. They will each receive from $1,625 to $1,750, depending on their years of service and rank, Delva said.
Interior Minister Thierry Mayard-Paul told reporters that the government has about $2.65 million at its disposal for the compensation.