US Tries to Keep Lid On Haitian Situation
AS Week One of ``Operation Uphold Democracy'' draws to a close, United States forces are acting to assuage concerns in Haiti and abroad that their cooperation with the Haitian military could make the international intervention untenable.
In response to the highly publicized accounts of police brutality against Haitian demonstrators, the US on Wednesday sent in 1,000 military police to help curb street violence. US Army commander Lt. Gen. Henry Shelton called for an end to civilian beatings and a ban on inflammatory statements on state-owned media. And a meeting between General Shelton and Haitian commander-in-chief Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras led to US troops occupying Camp d'Application, site of the military's heavy equipment storage, and beginning the task of ``rendering inoperable'' the heavy weapons that have been the tools of numerous coup d'etats.
The nearly 10,000 American troops now on the island have peacefully secured the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces as well as the seaports and airports of Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien in the north.
And, to the dismay of many soldiers, they have set up camp in the local barracks. In some places, they have even put on their own locks.
But US operations must also tread carefully to avoid what many recognize as a potentially explosive situation within the Haitian forces.
One of the top priorities of the intervention is to separate the police and the military in accordance with the Haitian Constitution. Those who are more educated, particularly enlisted men, will most likely be retrained and incorporated into the new force. Those with more than 20 years service will retire and collect their pension.
The problematic group is the young, otherwise untrained rank-and-file soldiers, who make up all but 900 of the 7,000-man force. Even though it is not clear how the new police force will be vetted, many of the ti solda, or little soldiers, fear they will soon be unemployed.
``That's the one thing that could create a social explosion,'' says a military officer. ``I've heard guys talk among themselves, and they say if they are going to lose their job, their livelihood, they will make sure others go down with them, whether it's their superiors who betrayed them or Aristide supporters seeking revenge.''
``It's a problem Aristide is well aware of and working on,'' says the Rev. Antoine Adrien, a close ally of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. ``We have to provide jobs for soldiers so they don't feel rejected or abandoned.'' In Washington on Wednesday, President Aristide appealed for calm, called on elected officials to resume their offices, and promised to return within 24 days.
Meanwhile, as Haitians work closely with US soldiers it becomes increasingly more difficult for General Cedras to protect his troops.
The Haitian military has only three or four operational boats and planes, six light reconnaissance vehicles, and not even one helicopter in working condition.
``The soldiers are feeling very frustrated,'' said a source close to the military. ``They feel inferior because the American soldier has more training, better equipment. There's also a language barrier, which keeps them ignorant of what is happening to them. They feel doubtful about their future.''
More than a hundred soldiers deserted their posts over the weekend, including the commander of the Cap-Haitien headquarters. Police chief Lt. Col. Michel Francois, slated to leave with Cedras and Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby on Oct. 15, has sent his wife and children to the Dominican Republic. Once members of the military are not protected by their weapons any more, they can be the target of revenge killings.
``We feel betrayed because they have no control any more,'' says one policeman. ``Our country is not our country anymore.''
US troops know that most of the soldiers have their weapons and ammunition hidden outside the barracks, so they are calling for the military to turn in their guns. With perseverance, they may be able to recuperate those that are registered, but many are not. General Shelton has not yet announced a plan to enter neighborhoods for house-to-house searches. The de facto Haitian authorities have agreed not to renew arms permits with the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1.
``I doubt the sincerity of cooperation on the part of the United States,'' says Mireille Durocher Bertin, a lawyer who is close to Cedras. ``They are using Cedras and his officers until Oct. 15, and then they won't need the Army any more. After Aristide comes back, they will destroy it altogether.''
Cedras is attempting to build a provisional security net for his men by creating a coordination committee of newly appointed officers, which meets daily with a group of US officers.
On Wednesday, Cedras publicly agreed to step down from office, but announced he will not leave the country as both President Clinton and Aristide had hoped. Some here fear that this will be the beginning of a fracture that could then break up into a civil explosion quelled only by foreign troops.