Francois flees from Haiti

The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti Police chief Michel Francois sneaked out of Haiti in the dark Tuesday, the first coup leader to abandon the struggle against American soldiers who poured into Haiti to install a democratic government.

Several hours later, a militia leader renounced violence and called off his opposition to the planned return next week of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

"No more violence," said Emmanuel Constant, the leader of the pro-army militia FRAPH, whose headquarters were taken over by the American soldiers Monday. "I'm asking everyone to put down the stones, to put down the tires and to put down the guns."

The practice of placing burning tires around someone's neck known as "necklacing" has been a notorious form of terror in Haiti.

Screams of "Murderer! Murderer!" from about 2,000 Haitians who gathered outside the presidential palace punctuated Constant's speech. Americans troops were protecting Constant, whose group directed terror attacks since its formation in August 1993.

In additional signs of the push toward democracy, Haitians led U.S. soldiers to homes of suspected civilian gunmen to assist in the American disarmament campaign.

The U.S. military announced that commercial airline flights could begin landing at the Port-au-Prince airport as early as Wednesday.

And Aristide himself pledged to return quickly, telling cheering delegates at the U.N. General Assembly he would be back in Haiti in 11 days.

"Our hearts are filled with joy," said Wilkens Pierre, who watched Aristide's speech on television in a shack in a Port-au-Prince slum. "We don't know if this will mean an end to the ter ror, but it will mean a new beginning for Haiti."

Francois' nighttime drive to the Haitian border post at Malpasse came after his soldiers were humiliated Monday laid out on the ground and handcuffed in front of jeering Haitians by some of the nearly 20,000 American troops here to ensure the exit of the Haitian coup leaders.

Francois' four-wheel-drive vehicle passed into the neighboring Dominican Republic after daylight Tuesday, en route for Santo Domingo, after several hours of waiting.

Border officials in the Dominican Republic said Francois was accompanied by his brother, Evans Francois, a businessman and former Haitian consul to the Dominican Republic, his wife, two other women and three bodyguards.

Francois left behind a resignation letter defending his actions. "It was not for me to juggle with the destiny of the country," he wrote, in words broadcast on local radio. "I am proud of myself."

After arriving at his brother's luxurious home in suburban Santo Domingo, he refused to talk to reporters. "Soldiers don't talk, only politicians," he said in a statement issued through his brother.

Francois, who as a precinct chief spearheaded the overthrow of Aristide in September 1991, had masterminded squads of "attaches," or army auxiliaries, responsible for many of the thousands of political killings since.

He, army chief Raoul Cedras and army chief-of-staff Philippe Biamby were to leave power by Oct. 15 under a last-minute agreement negotiated with former President Carter that averted a U.S. invasion.

It was not clear whether Cedras and Biamby would also flee, or simply quit their posts. Cedras has vowed not to leave his homeland.

"We have never insisted that the other two leave the country," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Stanley Schrager. "We would hope they do. But they are only obliged to leave their posts."

Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Washington he has "absolutely no doubt" that Cedras and Biamby will leave power on Oct. 15. He said they are also likely to leave the country.

"I find it so very difficult to believe that either he or Biamby would stay," Shalikashvili said.

At the United Nations on Tuesday, Aristide told the General Assembly he would be back in Haiti by the Oct. 15 deadline. "Eleven days from now, I shall be there, thanks to the determination of the Haitian people and our solidarity," Aristide pledged.

The United States, with thousands of troops in Haiti to help restore the elected government, is seeking the peaceful departure of all three military leaders.

"It became very clear that there is a new sheriff in town," U.S. Embassy spokesman Stanley Schrager said in publicly announcing Francois' departure. "We fully anticipate the departure of Gen. Cedras and Gen. Biamby in the near-future."

The news of Francois' departure flabbergasted and angered Haitian soldiers, who demanded an explanation from Cedras. Several said Francois, who made a fortune in contraband and corruption since the coup, even skipped out with their pensions.

"Our lives are severely threatened," said a statement pushed on a reporter outside police headquarters by members of the army's 30th Company. Police are a part of Haiti's army.

"He (Francois) had no right to leave without telling us," said Jacques Jolibois, a policeman for eight years. "They betrayed us."

Inside police headquarters, Francois' temporary replacement, Maj. Marc Kernizan, met with former New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who will be leading a 1,000-member group of international police to train and to monitor the Haitian police force.

The news of Francois' departure electrified Aristide supporters.

"It is an important step toward the re-establishment of democracy and peace," Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul, Aristide's campaign manager, told The Associated Press. "The others (Cedras and Biamby) should follow his example."

The democratically elected mayor took office again Thursday for the first time since Francois-backed thugs used gunfire to drive him away seven months after Aristide took office.

Francois was widely seen as the power behind the three years of military domination. He enriched himself through control of customs, ports and telecommunications divisions of government. He also ran the state car insurance company and imported cars.

His departure followed an open letter by his brother, Evans, urging him to go. The letter, distributed in the Dominican Republic, reminded the police chief that his entire family had already fled there and he could live a good life there.

He reportedly owns a $250,000 home in the Dominican capital.

Several other Haitian military leaders have sought refuge in the neighboring country on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. They include former Lt. Gen. Joseph Namphy, who lives in the same swank complex in La Romana where designer Oscar de la Renta and CBS-TV newsman Mike Wallace own homes.

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