US acts 'too late' to disarm Haiti gunmen

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The Independent Online
AMERICAN troops, heavily criticised for failing to prevent street violence which for several days plunged Haiti into chaos, began attempting to disarm paramilitary gunmen at the weekend, but they may have acted too late to capture major caches of weapons.

After six people were killed and dozens wounded by armed civilians on Friday, the Americans appeared to change their policy of ignoring what they call 'Haitian-on-Haitian violence'. On Saturday night they burst into the homes and suspected offices of members of the so-called Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH) and of some wealthy Haitians linked with the country's military rulers.

The Pentagon said last night that the US would start withdrawing 1,800 Marines, replacing them with military police, more suited to the task of quelling violence on Haiti's streets and disarming gunmen. Leon Panetta, the White House Chief of Staff, also said US forces would be more aggressive in trying to disarm paramilitary groups.

US military sources said Americans also raided Haiti's main naval base at Bizoton, near Port-au-Prince, which was widely thought to have been used as a depot for FRAPH weapons. The sources said the Americans confiscated 14 machine guns, 11 Uzi sub-machine guns, 119 M-1 rifles, four recoilless rifles and several cases of ammunition.

US troops also detained a former US Marine, Marco Lamothe, an American adventurer who had links with the FRAPH, after finding a grenade, gun and ammunition in his vehicle. In what seemed to be a move against friends of the military leader, Lieutenant-General Raoul Cedras, US forces detained Bobby Carrie, the head of what are known here as 'the Ninjas', black-hooded Cedras bodyguards.

Supporters of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who took the brunt of Friday's violence, said the Americans had acted too late, allowing the FRAPH to conceal what they fear is a massive arsenal aimed at preparing for civil war.

Emmanuel 'Toto' Constant, the head of FRAPH, in an interview with the Independent yesterday, insisted that FRAPH was a political party, with 300,000 members nationwide out of Haiti's seven-million population. 'I have disarmed myself. I have plenty of rocks and bottles but I have returned my Uzi, given to me by General Cedras, since it was army property,' he said.

Sitting on a wicker chair in the garden of his Port-au-Prince villa, Mr Constant said he believed the US forces were planning to detain him, 'probably on trumped-up charges of human rights violations'.

'If they detain me, that will mean the beginning of civil war. I won't resist because I don't have to resist. Somebody wants a civil war. We don't,' Mr Constant said.