PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The detentions were part of a broader effort by the Haitian government to crack down on the groups of ex-soldiers and their young followers who were pressing President Michel Martelly to honor his campaign pledge of reinstating the armed forces, which was dissolved in 1995 because of its involvement in coups and other abuses.
Haitian authorities repeatedly ordered the armed men and a few women to clear out of 10 bases they had taken over since February but they refused. The leaders, most of them dismissed sergeants, said they wouldn't leave until Martelly appointed them to an interim military force.
But Haitian police closed two military bases Saturday and a third Sunday morning in the northern city of Cap-Haitien when 100 people inside fled, Delva said.
Delva said authorities learned that the leaders of the group had tricked the younger recruits into thinking that they would be part of the military.
"It was a big scheme, making them think that they were part of an army," Delva said, noting that the leaders charged recruits up to $125.
Police also found bottles to be used as Molotov cocktails and an expensive generator that raised questions about their source of funding. Some of the weapons they carried, including an M-60, turned out to be broken or fake, Delva said.
There was speculation that the would-be soldiers received funding from the Martelly administration in part because they were able to take over the old military bases and other public facilities without opposition. The leaders of the group denied they received government support, and Delva on Sunday denied it as well.
The men in the military uniforms had come to embarrass the U.N. peacekeeping mission and the Haitian government, which has focused on trying to lure foreign investors and tourists. The paramilitary-like presence of the hopeful troops worried many; they readily recalled a time when previous administrations used private militias to stay in power.