US troops pour into Haiti: Aristide supporters dare to celebrate as Clinton takes a bow despite doubts over deal with junta

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AS THE FIRST US troops landed in Haiti yesterday, President Bill Clinton claimed credit for resolving the most serious crisis of his presidency.

Standing with his special envoy, former president Jimmy Carter, in Washington, he said the US had achieved its two main objectives: forcing Haiti's military rulers to step down; and restoring the exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.

In Haiti, the scene was reminiscent of the film Apocalypse Now, but without the Wagner. Ten Blackhawk helicopters came over the sea from the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower, at 9.30am. They turned from distant black wasps into a rumbling intervention force, disgorging 200 combat troops of the 10th Mountain Division on to the airport apron. Poor Haitians, more curious than tense, lined the rubbish-strewn harbour where vendors continued to sell charcoal, bottles of black market petrol and coconut juice as the helicopters came over.

The soldiers, all veterans of Somalia, took no chances. Fifteen men jumped from each helicopter, dived on to the tarmac and turned their guns towards the surrounding countryside and a terminal building balcony lined with scores of journalists.

Within a minute, the helicopters were up and away, the troops lugging their packs, rifles, machine-guns, bazookas and radios towards the shade of the terminal. Minutes later, the commander of the intervention, General Hugh Shelton, came in on a second wave.

After the Americans had landed thousands of men and dropped tons of equipment at Port-au-Prince harbour, a few thousand Haitians erupted into a joyous demonstration in favour of Fr Aristide. It was the first time his supporters, reassured by the presence of the American troops, had dared demonstrate in large numbers this year. 'Aristide with Clinton. They are brothers,' the crowd sang as they danced in front of the harbour. 'God has delivered us from the wicked ones.'

After talks with Lieutenant-General Raoul Cedras, the Haitian army commander who led the 1991 coup that toppled President Aristide, General Shelton said: 'I am happy to report we have been warmly received by both the Haitian military and Haitian people.' He confirmed that he and his men had set off on Sunday night on an invasion course before Mr Clinton called them off.

There are doubts in Washington about the concessions made to General Cedras, who will step down but probably not leave Haiti. The agreement with the Haitian military appears to promise a general amnesty, which would include the army-backed death squads which have killed 3,000 people since 1991.

And in Haiti some of General Shelton's remarks contrasted sharply with those of the US administration a few days earlier. 'We will use some of General Cedras's forces in some cases,' said the general, when asked if his men would deploy in slum areas to prevent violence between supporters and opponents of President Aristide. He appeared to see no incongruity in joining forces with what Mr Clinton had described days earlier as 'the most brutal regime in the Western hemisphere'.

Mr Clinton can now hope to benefit politically from the peaceful occupation of Haiti in contrast to humiliating setback in Somalia last year. Fr Aristide is clearly unhappy about the compromises made with General Cedras, and the delay of his return until after 15 October. But with an accord endorsed by Mr Carter, Mr Clinton need fear little from critics.

Thin support for Clinton, page 10

Leading article, page 11

Finest hour? page 13

(Photograph omitted)