Haiti's Aristide Will Stand Up to Rebels
The uprising, which began Feb. 5, is led by a gang that says it was armed by Aristide to terrorize his opponents in Gonaives, a rebel-held city and the country's fourth-largest, northwest of Port-au-Prince. Its members turned on Haiti's leader after gang leader Amiot Metayer was killed in September, saying he was silenced to stop him spreading damaging information about Aristide. Aristide denies any connection to the gang.
On Thursday, armed men attacked the police station at Ouanaminthe, on Haiti's northeast border with the Dominican Republic, and torched the building, Radio Vision 2000 reported. It did not say if there were casualties.
The rebels were joined this week by a sinister group of former soldiers and a death squad leader from the Haitian army that ousted Aristide in 1991. Aristide disbanded the army after he was restored to power in by a U.S. invasion in 1994.
Aristide got to serve only two years of his first term of office, shortchanged by U.S. insistence that he could not recoup three years lost in exile and had to respect a constitutional term limit.
Instead, he handpicked his successor, and was largely seen as the power behind the scenes until his return in 2000 through presidential elections marred by a low voter turnout and an opposition boycott.
He has lost much support since flawed legislative elections that year led international donors to freeze aid, preventing him from fulfilling an election promise to improve life for Haiti's 8 million people.
Even before the rebellion, half Haiti's people went hungry daily, according to aid organizations that warn of a looming humanitarian crisis.
The United Nations said Thursday it was sending a team by air to northwest Port-de-Paix and Cap-Haitien to assess the situation.
"Mounting insecurity is jeopardizing food security and domestic harvests. ... Some cities are already reportedly confronting food shortages and significant price increases of essential commodities," said a statement from the U.N. Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
U.S. officials have said they see no signs so far of widespread boat-building on the north coast, something that presumably would be required before any large refugee exodus from Haiti.
A U.S. government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity Thursday, noted that there were strong winds off the north coast of the island on Thursday, and a similar forecast for the next couple days - a factor that would prevent small craft from sailing and thus would discourage Haitians from leaving by sea.
© 2004 The Associated Press