UN peacekeepers arrive to quell Haiti violence

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The Independent US

A rebel convoy rolled into the centre of the Haiti capital Port-au-Prince today, encountering no resistance as hundreds of joyful people ran into the street.

Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide flew into exile in the Central African Republic as US and French marines prepared to guard key areas as a UN peace-keeping force began to take shape.

Mr Aristide, who left office yesterdasy amid pressure from Haiti's political opposition, the rebels and from the United States and France, arrived in the Central African Republic - for "a few days" according to state radio. He said those who overthrew him have "cut down the tree of peace," but "it will grow again."

Rebels riding atop pickup trucks pumped their fists in the air as hundreds spilled into the streets to greet the insurgents in central Port-au-Prince, shouting "Guy Philippe!" - the name of the rebel leader. The convoy then arrived at a large square outside the National Palace and some of the vehicles stopped at a police station nearby.

The tumultuous scene in the came as US and French Marines prepared to fan out and protect key sites in the capital.

Asked what his intentions were in the capital, Philippe told an Associated Press reporter traveling with him: "We're just going to make sure the palace is clean for the president to come ... that there is no threat there."

He said he was referring to Supreme Court Justice Boniface Alexandre, who on Sunday said he was taking control of the government as called for by the constitution.

It was unclear how the rebel force would be greeted by the US and French troops who were planning to deploy at diplomatic missions and other sites around the capital. Philippe earlier said he welcomed deployment of foreign peacekeepers.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell made clear he did not want to see some of the leaders of the motley rebel groups try to assume any roles in the new government.

"Some of these individuals we would not want to see re-enter civil society in Haiti because of their past records and this is something we will have to work through," Powell said.

One of the rebel leaders was a leader of government death squads that killed Aristide followers when the Haitian military, which ousted Aristide in 1991, ruled until a US military intervention restored him to power in 1994. Philippe was in the military when it repressed dissidents.

The convoy of more than 70 rebels commanded by Philippe, a former assistant police chief and former military officer, headed out from the western town of Gonaives before dawn, driving past scene of death and destruction.

In the town of St. Marc, which the rebels had attacked early in the uprising which began Feb. 5 but then was retaken by government forces, the convoy passed a roadblock where the charred bodies of three people lay in the middle of the road.

The rebel vehicles had mechanical trouble during the drive, delaying their arrival in the capital. Philippe's bulletproof SUV broke down and he hopped into a truck.

Col. David Berger, head of US Marine contingent, said 150 Marines from 8th Battalion, based in Camp Lejeune, N.C., had arrived.

"The US forces have been sent here to secure key sites in the capital to achieve more security and a stable environment," Berger told the AP.

Asked how troops would interact with incoming rebels and armed Aristide supporters, he said: "I have no instructions to go about disarmament."

"We have a specific purpose," he said. "People who interfere with that mission, we will handle with appropriate force."

The contingent of French Marines was to first secure French diplomatic sites.

"We will go to the French Embassy and the ambassador's residence and as events unfold we will decide if there are other places (to secure)," he said.

Aristide's home, meanwhile was looted and trashed. The three-story villa on a sprawling private estate looked like a tornado had hit it.

Pictures, documents and a grand piano were dragged out onto courtyard then abandoned. Family and school pictures lay among the disorder. Broken plates littered the area by the pool. Books that were strewn about included several written by Aristide, one about Marcus Garvey, a black nationalist leader from Jamaica.

A Caribbean official said Aristide was expected to continue on to South Africa, but South African officials said they were unaware of such plans.

The initial contingent troops that landed Sunday night were the vanguard of a multinational force approved by the UN Security Council. More were expected to arrive Monday.

Alexandre urged calm.

"Haiti is in crisis," he said Sunday. "It needs all its sons and daughters. No one should take justice into their own hands."

Following Aristide's departure, angry Aristide supporters roamed the streets Sunday armed with old rifles, pistols, machetes and sticks. Some fired wildly into crowds on the Champs de Mars, the main square in front of the National Palace. But then calm descended later Sunday.

Haiti's crisis has been brewing since Aristide's party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000, prompting international donors to freeze millions of US dollars in aid.

Opponents also accused Aristide of breaking promises to help the poor, allowing corruption fueled by drug trafficking and masterminding attacks on opponents by armed gangs - charges the president denied.

The discontent erupted into violence 3 1/2 weeks ago as rebels began driving police from towns and cities in the north.

Though not aligned with rebels, the political opposition had also pushed for Aristide to leave for the good of Haiti's 8 million people, angered by poverty, corruption and crime. The uprising killed at least 100 people.

Alexandre, in his 60s, has a reputation for honesty but could face a legal obstacle: The Haitian constitution calls for parliament to approve him as leader, and the legislature has not met since early this year when lawmakers' terms expired.