Staff and wire reports
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti Ä With U.S. warships skirting the shore and aircraft buzzing overhead, Haitians waited with both dread and hope Thursday for a long-threatened American invasion.
President Clinton bluntly told Haiti's military leaders: "Leave now or we will force you from power." He issued the warning in a speech prepared for delivery Thursday night.
But tough talk of an invasion has been no more successful than the severe economic blockade at dislodging the military rulers and restoring elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown nearly three years ago.
Haitian ruler Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras vowed again on Thursday to fight any invasion.
U.S. firepower is far superior to that of the Haitian army and volunteer paramilitaries. But the Haitians could mount a substantial resistance through guerrilla tactics.
University of Arizona political science professor Thomas Volgy said he questioned the reasons for the invasion.
"I don't know why we are going to jeoparadize American lives here," he said. "I am very confused as to why we are going to invade."
Some Haitians welcomed the possible invasion.
For Haitians in Port-au-Prince's slums, most of them Aristide supporters who have suffered under the embargo, the biggest fear seemed to be that the Americans would not invade. They also worried the Haitian army would retaliate against them.
"We want it to happen and be over with," said the hostess of a downtown restaurant who feared letting her name be used. "If you're dead, you're dead. If you're alive, you can pick up the pieces and get on with your life."
UA students disagreed as to
whether the U.S. should be getting involved.
"I think we should invade because the government is getting too crazy over there," said Cody Sweet, business freshman.
But Rob Bauer, an undecided freshman, said, "Basically the U.S. is putting Haiti at gunpoint and intimidating them. The U.S. is turning into the bully of the world."
There were mixed signals from Haiti's ruler, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras. Dan Rather of CBS News said from Port-au-Prince on Thursday that Cedras had told him he was prepared to leave "under certain conditions."
But in an interview later Thursday, Cedras told Rather he would not accept the U.S. offer to allow him to go into exile.
"The matter here is not one person," he said through an interpreter.
"We have had in the country a government that preached power through elections but did not behave in a democratic way," he said, referring to Aristide.
In a statement in English before the interview, Cedras said: "I hope we can prevent bloodshed by holding a new dialogue where for the first time our side of the story can be heard." He did not elaborate.
Cedras was part of U.N. mediated talks in 1992 that ended with an agreement for him to step down and for Aristide to return from exile. But Cedras later refused to meet the terms of the agreement, prompting the resumption of economic sanctions and the increasing threats of invasion.
There are 20 U.S. warships in the Caribbean, two more ships and two aircraft carriers on the way, and troops staging mock landings in Puerto Rico.
In Haiti, army sources said Haitian militia would start training with live ammunition Thursday afternoon at a firing range halfway between the capital and the border with the Dominican Republic.
The army and paramilitary recruits have been conducting daily exercises for about a month and a half around the capital, without firing. Many don't even have weapons.
UA Regional development senior Mark Lozelle said, "I think we are the only country that has the power to invade Haiti, but I think Haiti should take care of their own problems."
Volgy said he thought a successful invasion could create similar situations for the U.S. in the future.
"It is possible that the U.S. hopes that threats will force the ruling junta to back down," he said. "The problem is we have to go through with that threat."
"There are a number of countries where we have a disagreement with the legitimacy of the government," Volgy said. "It is not a good enough reason to threaten American lives."
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