PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The leaders of a band of armed men pressing for the return of Haiti's military met with President Michel Martelly while he was a candidate in hopes that he would bring back the army, a former sergeant said Monday.
Jean Fednel Lafalaise gave few details about the meeting, but said Martelly reassured members of the group that the army would be reinstated if he was elected president.
"This is what we are fighting for, this what we wanted," Lafalaise told reporters at an old military base outside the capital. "This is why we asked all our families to vote for Martelly."
A spokesman for the president couldn't be immediately reached for comment Monday.
The hopeful soldiers spoke with reporters on the same day that Martelly marked his first year as president.
Also on Monday, the Chamber of Deputies approved the Cabinet and government plan of Laurent Lamothe, making the former businessman Haiti's new prime minister. Martelly's first prime minister, Garry Conille, resigned because of disagreements with the president over priorities.
Several groups of armed men have been pressing Martelly in recent months to honor his campaign pledge of restoring the army, which was abolished in 1995 because of its abusive record. They've pressed their case by parading around Haiti's capital and the countryside while wearing military uniforms and sporting side arms.
The Haitian government has ordered the groups to clear out of several old army bases that they quietly took over in February but they have refused to leave.
Their paramilitary-like presence has come to embarrass Haiti as well as the country's United Nations peacekeeping mission. The U.N. and Haitian National Police arrested two members of the group last week for carrying illegal weapons.
There has been much public speculation over who's financing the groups, with some lawmakers accusing them of receiving money from the government. Lafalaise said they are self-supporting.
"Nobody is financing us. We finance our own self," Lafalaise said. "We are the ones who fought to put it together."
The armed men say they plan to organize marches throughout the country on Friday, a national holiday.
In the first year in office, Martelly's government has cleared and closed several major camps for people dislocated by a killer 2010 earthquake, and has paid the school tuition for 1 million children.
But the first 12 months of his presidency have also been marred with political infighting and dysfunction that has slowed the post-quake recovery. His first prime minister resigned after only four months on the job.