By ANITA SNOW – Associated Press – September 22, 1994
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ The United States muscled toward total military control of Haiti on Thursday, breaking up the army’s heavy weapons, guarding pro-democracy activists and giving U.S. troops more leeway to use force.
In a methodical effort to unravel the 1991 coup that overthrew elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, American forces also planned to move into the countryside and take over the training of rural police forces notorious for their harsh repression of civilians.
In the northern city of Cap-Haitien, Marines parked armored personnel carriers in front of several police stations. “There should be no misunderstanding by now that the Marines will intervene if necessary to prevent violence,” said Maj. Steve Little, a Marine spokesman.
Haitian soldiers, who have seemed overwhelmed with the swiftness of U.S. troops’ arrival and increasing influence in their country, watched with astonishment as a U.S. convoy entered Haiti’s heavy weapons depot outside Port-au-Prince.
The weapons company played a key role in Aristide’s ouster. To be dismantled are decades-old, poorly maintained heavy equipment including six V- 150 armored vehicles, anti-aircraft weapons and heavy artillery.
“We’re still alive so I can’t complain. I am very happy to collaborate,” said a Haitian soldier who would not give his name. “If there was any sense in fighting we would have. There is no reason to fight our American brothers.”
On other fronts, however, the operation was moving much less swiftly and smoothly. Ruling Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras is balking at leaving the country and parliament remained divided over proposed amnesty for the military, a measure seen as a crucial step toward putting the country back together.
Cedras and the other coup leaders have to surrender control by Oct. 15 under the U.S.-Haiti accord, but he isn’t required to leave the country, as has been long demanded by Aristide.
About 11,000 U.S. troops were expected in Haiti by Thursday night, more than two-thirds of the total planned deployment of 15,000. The earliest they could begin to withdraw would be after the Haitian parliamentary elections in December, Defense Secretary William Perry said.
Asked about Cedras’ remarks that he would stay in Haiti after stepping down, Perry said he believed all the coup leaders would decide to leave “when it comes right down to it.”
In an effort to avoid a repeat of the bloody clashes earlier this week between Haitian police and pro-democracy demonstrators, American soldiers have been given more room to intervene in street melees.
Army Col. Barry Willey, a spokesman for U.S. military task force, said Thursday that American soldiers should use their discretion in using force.
Since tear-gassing and beating people bloody on Tuesday, Haitian police have shown more restraint in dispersing crowds that come to the port to watch more and more American troops arrive.
In Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s second-largest city, Marines patrolled by foot Thursday and at dusk positioned some light-armored units outside key police stations as a sign to local authorities of the U.S. presence and intentions.
“The progress in the last 72 hours has been, I think, quite remarkable,” U.S. Embassy spokesman Stanley Schrager said. “And our view is that Haiti today is better off than it was yesterday.”
U.S. Army Col. Michael Sullivan, head of the 1,000-member military police force, met Thursday with Col. Michel Francois, head of the repressive Port-au- Prince police, U.S. officials said. No details of the meeting were available, but the two were to meet again Friday.
Excitement in the streets about Aristide’s planned return has increased since U.S. troops arrived Monday, with more pro-Aristide slogans and pictures appearing on walls around the capital.
An informal rally erupted in the afternoon at the port, with thousands of people jumping up and down, many of them flashing voter cards with pictures of Aristide. “Lock up Cedras, We demand you lock up Cedras 3/8” they sang.
There were no reports of violence and no uniformed police in sight.
U.S. troops occupied the capital’s military airfield just north of La Saline, the slum where Aristide, a Roman Catholic priest, once worked as a parish church. The 100 Haitian soldiers on duty didn’t resist.
Meanwhile, a convoy of nine tank-like Bradley fighting vehicles and six Humvee jeeps arrived at Haiti’s only weapons depot in the suburb of Petionville Thursday morning to begin taking the army’s heavy weapons apart.
American soldiers were nervous when the convoy moved from downtown, urging a photographer to put on a bulletproof vest. But they relaxed after Haitians cheered and danced along the roadside.
“It’s just like a ride through the farm,” said Pfc. Gary Utterback of Akron, Ohio.
The military regime that took over after the 1991 coup was marked by brutal repression against Aristide supporters. Up to 3,000 Haitians have been killed in military-tolerated political violence over three years.
To guard against rightist revenge attacks against Aristide supporters, the United States also sent out troops to guard pro-democracy leaders, including Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul, Aristide’s former campaign manager, Schrager said.
“We will secure them as long as necessary until we establish a stable and secure environment,” he said.
In a sign of optimism, Haitian volunteers began cleaning up and repairing downtown streets and most of the shops that have been closed in recent months began opening their doors. Street vendors clogged the streets.
The volunteer crews recalled those that helped clean up the capital after dictator Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier fled the country, during Aristide’s presidential campaign and before his inauguration.
In another attempt to ease Aristide’s scheduled return to power next month, the United States will help return exiled lawmakers to Haiti to approve an amnesty for the leaders and supporters of the 1991 coup, Schrager said.
Haitian radio on Thursday broadcast a statement by de facto President Emile Jonassaint’s government saying he intends to convene lawmakers as soon as possible to vote on the matter.
Human Rights Watch and the National Coalition for Haitian Refuges, however, on Thursday deplored the amnesty, saying that it “tells the abusers there is no penalty to pay, and does nothing to dispel the temptation to disregard the law in the future.”
They also called on President Clinton to oppose any amnesty law that would prohibit the prosecution of those accused of gross human rights abuses.
In London, Amnesty International said Thursday that U.S. troops must disarm Haiti’s pro-army militias “implicated in the torture, ‘disappearance’ and killing of thousands of Haitians.”
The human rights group said the U.S. intervention to return Aristide to power “is a step in the right direction, but only that.”
A dozen U.N. military observers were to arrive in Haiti Friday.