Registered: Jan 2003
Local time: 07:26 AM
Location: Santa Cruz
Fifty U.S. Marines were headed to Haiti on Monday to protect the American Embassy and diplomats after rebels overran Haiti's second-largest city and began detaining supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Marines were requested after rebels threatened to attack the capital, Port-au-Prince, soon.
Two police stations outside Port-au-Prince were attacked Sunday, independent Radio Kiskeya reported, and Aristide supporters began building barricades to protect the city.
The Marines are sending a Fleet Anti-Terrorist Security Team, which usually consists of about 50 troops trained in anti-terrorism techniques, a Defense Department official said on condition of anonymity in Washington. The team is used to secure embassies and other facilities or ships.
In Cap-Haitien, where rebels celebrated their biggest victory of a bloody uprising, a rampage of looting continued Monday as supposed Aristide militants were detained.
"I am a brick mason, I didn't do anything wrong!" Jean-Bernard Prevalis, 33, pleaded as he was dragged away, his head bleeding. Residents alleged he was an Aristide activist and a drug trafficker.
"We're going to clean the city of all 'chimere,'" said rebel Dieusauver Magustin, 26, using the Creole word "ghost" to describe pro-government militants.
It was not clear what would happen to those who were detained. One rebel said they were saving them from lynching. Another, Claudy Philippe, said: "The people show us the (chimere) houses. If they are there, we execute them."
The looting began Sunday, when rebel leader Guy Philippe predicted a quick victory over Aristide's partisans, who had erected flaming barricades on the highway into Port-au-Prince.
"I think that in less than 15 days we will control all of Haiti," Philippe said at a Cap-Haitien hotel as he drank a bottle of beer.
Sources close to the government said several Cabinet ministers in Port-au-Prince were asking friends for places to hide should the capital be attacked by anti-government protesters.
On Monday, France urged its citizens to leave Haiti. "We are convinced that all those who have no purpose for being there should not stay," said Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin on RMC-Info radio. He did not indicate if France had evacuation plans.
There are about 30,000 foreigners in Haiti, including about 20,000 Americans, 2,000 French and 1,000 Canadians.
The political opposition has said it will respond by 5 p.m. Monday to a U.S.-backed peace plan that calls for Aristide to remain president while sharing some power with rivals until new elections are organized.
The Red Cross, meanwhile, is trying urgently to avert a collapse of medical care in Haiti, a senior official said Monday.
"The situation is unraveling very quickly, probably more quickly than anybody would have thought," said Yves Giovannoni, head of operations for Latin America and the Caribbean at the International Committee of the Red Cross.'
ICRC staff are reporting 30-50 people a day injured by the fighting.
After protesters drove police from Cap-Haitien, a city of 500,000 on Haiti's north coast, thousands of people went on a looting spree.
The takeover of Cap-Haitien by about 200 fighters was the most significant advance by Aristide's opponents since the uprising began Feb 5. At least 15 people died in Sunday's fighting.
More than 70 people have been killed since the start of the rebellion.
The two-pronged rebel assault quickly engulfed key points in Cap-Haitien. The police station was burned, then looted, as was a pro-Aristide radio station. Thousands of people rushed to the port and carted off goods.
"We're all hungry," said Jean Luc, 11, who strapped four huge sacks of rice to his bicycle and was trying to pedal it home.
Residents also defaced posters of Aristide, who was wildly popular when he became Haiti's first freely elected leader in 1990 but lost support after flawed legislative elections in 2000 led international donors to freeze millions of dollars in aid.
Opponents accuse him of failing to help those in need in the Western hemisphere's poorest country, allowing corruption and masterminding attacks on opponents by armed gangs. Aristide denies the charges.
The rebels say they have no political agenda beyond ousting Aristide, but the man who started the rebellion, Gonaives gang leader Buteur Metayer, on Thursday declared himself the president of liberated Haiti.
Rebels have driven government forces from half the country. As Cap-Haitien stood on the brink of falling, police were barricaded in their posts, saying they lacked the personnel and firepower to fend off the insurgents.
Many people expressed joy at the rebel victory.
"The people are happy. Finally we're free from terror," said Fifi Jean, 30, as she stood in front of the blazing police headquarters, which was burned after the police fled amid the rebel assault. As night fell, fires broke out in the homes of some Aristide supporters in Cap-Haitien.
As the rebel leader predicted victory, his fighters, clad in camouflage uniforms and black flak jackets, sat by the hotel pool in lounge chairs, drinking beer and eating plates of goat, chicken, rice and beans.
Philippe said he wanted to see Aristide thrown in jail and put on trial, although he did not know what charges the president would face, saying it would be up to Haitian judges.
The rebel leader was an officer in the army when it ousted Aristide in 1991 and instigated a reign of terror that ended in 1994 when the United States sent 20,000 troops to end the military dictatorship and restore the president to power.
In taking Cap-Haitien, rebels said their force only met resistance at the airport, where Philippe said eight civilians loyal to Aristide were killed in a gunbattle. Seven other bodies were seen Sunday in Cap-Haitien.
Aristide supporters commandeered a plane from the airport, and witnesses said those who fled on it included seven police officers and former Aristide lawmaker Nawoum Marcellus, whose Radio Africa had been inciting violence against opponents.
"We came in today and we took Cap-Haitien; tomorrow we take Port-au-Prince," boasted Lucien Estime, a 19-year-old who joined the rebellion from the hamlet of Saint Raphael, south of Cap-Haitien. "Our mission is to liberate Haiti."
The United States blames Aristide for the crisis and has said it does not want to send troops to restore order.
The opposition coalition Democratic Platform insists any plan must include Aristide's resignation.
Aristide accepted the plan, but indicated he would not negotiate with the soldiers who had ousted him in 1991.