Ex-Soldier Details Haitian Coup Plot

An ex-soldier admitted Thursday he attacked Haiti's National Palace in a coup attempt, saying fellow conspirators included a former army colonel and two former police chiefs who fled the country after a previous coup plot.

Former Sgt. Pierre Richardson was captured with a bullet wound in his leg after Monday's assault on the presidential palace, stopped on a highway to the neighboring Dominican Republic, police said.

Richardson, the only palace attacker caught so far, spoke a day after one of those he implicated, former Col. Guy Francois, was arrested for helping to plan the failed coup.

Police brought Richardson before reporters at a police station where he said 23 or 24 attackers stormed the palace in an attempt to oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was unharmed.

"It was a coup d'etat," Richardson said. "The plan was to enter the National Palace."

His comments contradicted accusations of opposition leaders who claimed the government staged the attack as a pretext to crack down on dissent. After police retook the palace, Aristide supporters sought revenge by burning offices and homes of opposition leaders.

Richardson said he attended meetings in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo to plan the attack along with the two former police chiefs, who fled to the Dominican Republic after last year's alleged coup plot.

They were, he said, former police chief Guy Philippe of the northern city of Cap-Haitien, and former police chief Jean-Jacques Nau of Delmas, just outside Port-au-Prince.

"Guy Philippe told us that former Col. Guy Francois would organize a backup for us in Haiti," Richardson said. But when the group began the attack, no backup force materialized, he said.

When Francois was arrested Wednesday, his car had Dominican license plates, police said.

Philippe has denied involvement. In October 2000, he sought refuge in Dominican Republic along with seven others accused of plotting a coup. He later moved to Ecuador, but he flew back to Dominican Republic two weeks before Monday's assault, Dominican officials said.

After the attack, he returned to Ecuador, where he was being held by immigration police Thursday while he appealed a government decision to deport him to Panama, the country from which his flight had arrived.

Haiti asked Ecuador to extradite Philippe on Thursday. Philippe, meanwhile, told reporters in Quito: "How am I going to mobilize troops? By remote control?"

Richardson said he didn't think any member of the opposition coalition, Convergence, had participated in planning the failed coup.

Police earlier had said as many as 33 armed men attacked the palace. Based Richardson's information, up to 18 suspects still could be at large.

Five attackers were killed Monday, and the rest escaped, authorities said.

Richardson told police that Francois helped plan the attack. Francois conspired with other officers in 1989 in an attempt to overthrow dictator Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril. When the plan was foiled, Francois fled to Venezuela. It was unclear when he returned to Haiti.

Police say the palace assault was linked to July 28 attacks on the national Police Academy and three police stations, which left five dead and 14 wounded.

Richardson was involved in those attacks and later fled to Dominican Republic, where he was granted temporary residence, police said.

The one ex-soldier killed at the palace, Chavret Milot, was a leader among the attackers, Richardson said.

Officials said the men wore the khaki and camouflage fatigues of Haiti's former army, which ousted Aristide in a 1991 coup, interrupting his first term as president.

Aristide disbanded the army after he was restored to power in 1994 by U.S. troops. He was forced by term limits to step down in 1996, and he began a second term in February.

Some ex-soldiers have joined protests against Aristide, demanding the reestablishment of the 7,500-member army.

The palace assault came after Aristide's government mounted a campaign for international donors to release millions of dollars in aid frozen after disputed legislative elections won by his Lavalas Family party last year. The opposition, protesting alleged vote rigging, boycotted last year's presidential vote won by Aristide.

At least two opposition supporters were killed Monday, and police reported eight others killed in the palace attack and subsequent violence. At least nine others were wounded.