PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI, DEC. 4 -- Influential Roman Catholic bishops today rejected as "unjust" and "unconstitutional" the government's abolition Sunday of an independent board that had organized Haiti's aborted elections, but stopped short of rejecting a new vote that may be organized by the military-dominated government.
In a four-page statement, seven of the country's nine bishops condemned as "atrocities" the violent crimes that led to the suspension of the elections Sunday.
In a separate announcement, the bishops declined to name a representative to a new electoral board, as the ruling National Government Council has asked. They said they could find no-one willing to accept the post.
A constitution approved in a plebiscite in March provides for an independent electoral board to be formed by representatives of the church, human rights groups and other organizatons. Members of the current board have been in hiding since it was abolished Sunday.
"Everyone you talk to is frightened," said Port-au-Prince Bishop Joseph Lafontant, the bishops' conference secretary.
The decision ended speculation that the Catholic Church might spearhead a grass-roots movement to boycott elections that the government council, headed by Gen. Henri Namphy, hopes to organize with candidates acceptable to the armed forces.
Lafontant said he expects Namphy to choose the church's representative on the electoral board, as the new constitution allows. The bishop was careful not to prejudge the legitimacy of a new election.
"Our role is not to direct elections, our role is to accompany the people through the electoral process," Lafontant said.
The Catholic Church, which in recent years has worked closely with Haiti's poor, played a key part in encouraging the 1986 ouster of the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. Many poor people were awaiting a word from the bishops for guidance.
The bishops' statement said Haiti is "for the first time" facing a campaign of "cleverly organized terror." The bishops accused Namphy's armed forces of abetting burnings of polling stations and ballots.
The main confederation of Protestant churches, the Haitian journalists' association and Haiti's human rights groups also refused to name representatives to a new electoral board, which is supposed to have nine members. They argued that the constitution entitles only the dissolved board to carry out the vote.
The corpse of an unidentified Haitian, his skull shattered, apparently by bullets, was left before dawn today on a sidewalk behind the capital's cathedral, in what seemed to be a warning to the bishops.