Haitians abused near idle U.S. soldiers

The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti Jubilant supporters of Haiti's exiled president cheered U.S. troops on Tuesday, but police clubbed the demonstrators and fired tear gas as American soldiers stood by, under orders not to get involved.

Some demonstrators became angry at the Americans for failing to protect a man who, according to witnesses, was clubbed to death by a Haitian policeman.

The confrontations in the capital, which came as U.S. Marines swarmed ashore at Cap-Haitien on the northern coast, underlined the tensions in Haiti and the danger of factional violence that could drag in the Americans.

U.S. troops are walking a precarious path in trying to build democracy in the impoverished Caribbean nation. Their very presence could embolden mobs into violence against Haiti's military regime, but staying aloof runs the risk of being viewed by the masses as allies of hated Haitian soldiers and police.

Some American soldiers bridled at the orders that prevented them from intervening when police attacked supporters of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first freely elected president, who was ousted in a 1991 coup.

"I feel terrible," said Specialist Douglas Walton of Cincinnati, a soldier in the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division at the gates of the capital's port. "To see people beaten and not be able to do anything."

For now, U.S. officials said, the troops would not interfere in Haiti's domestic affairs. In Washington, Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned the risk of violence was high and said,"We can be taking casualties at any moment."

A day after soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division, from Fort Drum, N.Y., began landing at the Port-au-Prince airport, Marines extended the U.S. military operation to Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second largest city.

About 1,600 Marines came ashore in armored amphibious vehicles, helicopters and Hovercraft. As in the capital Monday, Haitian police cooperated with the American troops.

U.S. troops were not seen patrolling in Port-au-Prince and appeared to be concentrating on consolidating defense positions and supply depots. Convoys moved between the port, airport, an industrial park and a warehouse district where the Americans were setting up bases.

The Marines' objective was to secure the port and airport at Cap-Haitien, a city of 65,000 people, then move inland to take control of two roads and two bridges. Later in the day, they were expected to move farther into town to locations by a Haitian army barracks and several police outposts and a prison.

While street clashes escalated in Port-au-Prince, most parts of the capital were quiet. Many people were still holed up with relatives out of town waiting for the dust to settle. The normally busy Iron Market in the heart of the city was all but deserted.

The planned U.S. invasion to depose the Haitian military was called off Sunday because of a last-minute agreement by Haiti's army rulers to give up power and cooperate with U.S. forces.

Aristide broke his 36-hour silence Tuesday, issuing a statement in which he mentioned the need for peace and democracy, but not Sunday's agreement. His advisers have said he objects to allowing army rulers being in power until Oct. 15.

American soldiers numbered 7,000 by day's end a force equal to the entire Haitian army.

The capital's pro-Aristide mayor, Evans Paul, urged Haitians to stop demonstrating at least until American peacekeeping forces reached their planned deployment of 15,000.

"We've got to know how to manage this situation and not react by chasing rainbows," said Paul, who has been in hiding.

Marine Lt. Col. Steve Hartly, commander of one of the two task forces landing Tuesday, said under the rules of engagement his men could only step in when murder or rape was involved.

Several thousand Haitians were gathered outside the Port-au-Prince port Tuesday, hailing the arriving Americans. Blue-uniformed Haitian police had held back, watching the milling crowd, but one officer at one point attacked a demonstrator, hitting him on the back of the neck with a club, witnesses said.

At least 500 angry Haitians massed around his body, angry over the death. Some blamed Americans.

"If they came to help us no one would be dead," said one demonstrator, Melax Dasluvaes.

The crowd briefly drove off the police by throwing grapefruit-size rocks and pieces of concrete. One policeman, bleeding from the stomach, was taken away to an ambulance. Another was chased by the crowd to a building.

But after reinforcements arrived, police fired tear gas at the crowd and charged, forcing 30 of the protesters to jump into the harbor to escape.

American soldiers loaded their assault rifles but took no action. Three U.S. Army Humvees arriving on the scene briefly separated the police and protesters but then drove off.

Disturbances also broke out near Cite Soleil, a stronghold of Aristide's supporters, and near the airport.

More than 5,000 people massed just 200 yards from a police post in Cite Soleil. Many sang "We are Lavalas!" the long-repressed popular political movement of Aristide.

Some people hopped onto two U.S. Army personnel carriers, chanting "Cedras has to go! Biamby has to go! Michel Francois has to go!" references to the military leaders who overthrew Aristide.

About a dozen Haitian policemen fired automatic weapons into the air and several officers dragged the demonstrators off the vehicles. U.S. soldiers again did nothing.

About the same time at the airport, Haitians mobbed another Haitian, beating, choking and grabbing him. The man pleaded vainly for help from American soldiers 10 yards away.

A priest close to Aristide, the Rev. Jean-Yves Urfie, said the American inaction was "a source of worry."

"It's obvious that the U.S. Army is not protecting the people," he said. "It may be protecting the Haitian army."

But he also credited the U.S. presence with halting the gunfire in pro-Aristide areas by Haitian soliders and their civilian allies.

"The lessening of crime will make the people more confident. It will be harder for the Haitian military to go on a killing rampage," he said. "Now they only beat; they don't kill."

Read Next Article