U.N. Troops Confront Haitian Rebels
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Several hundred U.N. troops and Haitian police surrounded the estate of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (search) on Thursday in a showdown with a band of former soldiers who seized the abandoned compound.
Haiti's interim government warned that the rebels must leave the estate in the suburb of Tabarre (search) because it belongs to the state, but the men refuse to go.
"The transitional government will take all necessary steps to put an end to this intolerable situation with the assistance of the ... U.N. stabilization force," the government said in a statement issued through the U.N. peacekeeping mission.
The dozens of ex-soldiers, members of three-week rebellion that ousted Aristide in February, refused to leave after taking over the compound on Wednesday, said former Sgt. Remissainthe Ravix, their spokesman.
"We are staying here. We will not back down," Ravix told private Radio Vision 2000 on Thursday.
The government called the men at the compound "outlaws," setting a tough tone.
U.N. spokesman Col. Carlos Barcellos said there were no plans to storm the compound and the U.N. force is waiting for a team of government negotiators to arrive.
U.N. troops made first contact with the ex-soldiers early Thursday, speaking with one of the rebels through a gate, he said. They requested to speak with a government representative, Barcellos said.
About a mile of road leading to the compound was blocked off. Two dozen U.N. armored vehicles sit in front of the gates.
Haiti's rebels —mainly former members of the army, which Aristide disbanded in 1994 —have grown increasingly frustrated with the interim government for failing to reinstate the army. They have refused to lay down their weapons and want back pay for 10 years.
The government, however, said it is not in their hands.
"The government has no mandate to reinstate the army," the government said. "It will be up to the elected government from scheduled 2005 elections to make or not to make the decision."
The ex-soldiers siezed the compound, saying they want to use it as a base to keep security in Tabarre. The interim government fired the appointed mayor and two deputy mayors of Tabarre, who had reportedly handed Aristide's residence over to the soldiers, the U.N. peacekeepers said.
The ex-soldiers say Haiti's ill-equipped police force is not able to provide security in the Caribbean country of 8 million people. The former soldiers patrol some parts of the country, mostly in provincial towns, though human rights groups have complained they have no right to do so and represent a danger to stability.
The latest flare-up came amid a backdrop of political violence since Sept. 30 that has left more than 100 dead as pro-Aristide partisans demand his return from exile in South Africa.
It was the third confrontation between U.N. troops and former Haitian soldiers in less than three months.
Following devastating floods in the northern coastal city of Gonaives (search) in September, a band of soldiers wanted to enter the town to provide security and help victims. The U.N. force welcomed their assistance but said they could not come into the town bearing arms. The soldiers left without incident.