The United States delivered a protest to the Haitian government yesterday after an American diplomat was struck while attending a human rights meeting Friday that was broken up violently by men believed by witnessed to be secret police agents.
Envoys from the United States, France, Canada and West Germany reportedly were meeting in Port-au-Prince to discuss the melee, in which personnel from the three other embassies were also said to have been beaten.
State Department press spokesman Susan Pitman said the United States has delivered a protest to Haiti about the fracas in which Ints Silins, political officer at the Port-au-Prince mission, who was attending the meeting as an observer, was slapped sharply across the face.
U.S. Ambassador William B. Jones said he was "appalled" by thr incident.
A State Department spokesman said earlier that the United States was "deeply concerned" and was in the process of obtaining more details of Friday night's events.
Witnesses quoted by the Associated Press said the melee began seconds after Gerard Gourge, head of the Haitian Human Rights Committee, started to address the gathering at a downtown school building. The committee has spoken out on human rights before.
A group of men, whom witnesses believed to be secret police, started to swing chairs. Several climbed onto the state, tore Gourge's speech from his hands and beat him with their fists and feet as he fell to the floor.
The witnesses, who the AP said asked not to be identified, said Gourge's wife and daughter also were beaten.
No one was reported critically injured, but journalist Georges Michel of Radio Metropole was hospitalized with head injuries.
Gourge, an attorney and head of a secondary school, had called the meeting to discuss the status of human rights in Haiti following a Sept. 22 speech by President Jean-Claude Duvalier in which he praised his "Volunteers for National Security" as his "first line of defense."
The "volunteers" are an offshoot of the so-called Tontons Macoutes, the notorious personal security force of his father, the late dictator Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier, who ruled through terror and intimidation.
Although Jean-Claude, who succeeded his father as president-for-life in April 1971, has come under American and international pressure to improve human rights in his poor and overpopulated country, refugees have continued to flow steadily to southern Florida from Haiti since the early 1970s. Many of them claim they are fleeing political persecution, and foreign observers believe that dissent is still tightly contained.