Haiti's rulers massacre their opponents

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The Independent Online
HAITI'S military rulers massacred opponents and buried their bodies in three mass graves on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, at the same time as they were expelling almost 100 United Nations human rights monitors.

The bodies of up to 30 men, who appear to have been shot elsewhere, were dumped early on Tuesday morning beside the coastal road at Morne-a-Bateau, just outside Port- au-Prince. Villagers say they were given spades by the police and forced to bury the corpses. There were discarded shoes and bloody clothing beside the freshly-turned earth yesterday and the newly-buried bodies were beginning to smell. A local woman described how gunmen left five bodies in a spring near her house.

The massacre, the largest this year in Haiti, appears to be a calculated message from the military leaders to President Bill Clinton that they still hold the power of life and death in Haiti despite the UN embargo and the threatened US invasion.

Some 92 UN human rights monitors were expelled from Haiti yesterday, leaving on an Air France flight for the neighbouring Dominican Republic. The monitors have documented more than 300 killings by death squads so far this year. Colin Granderson, the leader of the UN team, said: 'Our departure will mean a turning point in the Haitian crisis.'

Emphasising the Haitian army's defiance of President Clinton, who is considering ordering an invasion of Haiti, the army commander, General Raoul Cedras, said in an interview on American television last night: 'I am the pin in Haiti's hand grenade. If pulled, an explosion will follow.'

As well as being a snub to President Clinton, the Morne-a-Bateau massacre is intended as a warning to Haitians that the death squads run by the military are still in control. The killers dumped the bodies semi- publicly, knowing that the news of the massacre would spread rapidly. With no UN monitors it will be difficult to establish the identities of the dead, but they were probably supporters of the exiled President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

A US invasion fleet will be in position off the coast of Haiti by next Sunday, but Mr Clinton has yet to decide what to do with it. The flood of Haitian refugees has receded for the moment, but this may be because of bad weather - it is the hurricane season - over the weekend. America's inability to deal with the Haitian boat people has been pushing Mr Clinton towards an invastion of the island.

Although Mr Clinton wants to avoid military action, he may have no alternative policy. The US ambassador to Haiti has asked the White House to issue an ultimatum to General Cedras demanding he and his senior supporters hand over power or face an invasion.

Responding to the expulsion of the UN team, France announced yesterday that it is suspending Air France flights to Haiti, which are the only way of getting to and from the island, from 1 August. The UN embargo last month ended all other air links with the outside world.