Aristide demands overthrow of military: White House reveals that up to 12 nations will join US-led force once the regime steps down

THE exiled Haitian President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, yesterday demanded 'swift and definitive' action by the international community to oust the military rulers in his country. But he said he was constitutionally prohibited from calling for military intervention. Such action is now being weighed by the United States to restore Father Aristide, ousted in a September 1991 coup, to power.

Nearly a dozen nations have agreed to join a US-led force for Haiti after any stepdown by the military, the White House said. 'Eight to 12 countries are committed to participate in any multilateral force after the de facto (military) government resigns,' the White House spokeswoman, Dee Dee Myers, said.

Members of the regime know that if they lose power they may be lynched. The lower ranks of the army and police rule Haiti through extortion backed by violence.

A case in point is that of Stivenson Magloire. Two years ago, two men working for the military regime stole one of the artist's paintings. His failure to get it back - during which he has been arrested and beaten by police with a rubber hose - shows how the Haitian army has turned its power over ordinary Haitians into profit.

Magloire knows the names of the men who stole it and he got a court order ordering them to return it. Three policemen came to his house on 25 June. 'They walked me to the jail and kept me there for two days. Then they shaved my head and four policemen beat me for two hours over the head and back with rubber batons made from car tyres.' Released after appearing in court, he still walks with a limp. The theft of his painting and his inability to get it back is typical of the way the military run Haiti. It underlines why they do not want to give up the power which has proved so profitable over the years.

The army commander, General Raoul Cedras, this week claimed that he is the 'safety pin' in a grenade which will explode if he leaves power. His suggestion is a ploy to frighten the United States, suggesting an invasion of Haiti will start a revolution or a civil war.

Since 1991, when the army seized power, it has played on US fears of Fr Aristide as a left-wing populist. President Bill Clinton pursued a contradictory policy until May, of trying to get rid of General Cedras and the Port-au- Prince police chief, Colonel Michel Francois, and, at the same time, clipping Fr Aristide's wings by forcing him to share power with the army and police, which US officers were to reform.

But, as a CIA official in Washington was quoted as saying last weekend, the Haitian military is a 'group of quasi-organised exortion groups'. If Fr Aristide returns, he added, 'they fear for their lives and fortunes'. None of this was a secret. But, over-confidence that the Haitian military would share their power has led President Clinton into making humiliating mistakes.

Little though he wants to invade, he may have no other option now. Sanctions are not working. The price of petrol has gone down in Port-au- Prince. There is hyperinflation, but this has led to a building boom as people try to turn their money into bricks and mortar before it becomes valueless. The American fleet may be on the horizon, but on Tuesday the regime showed who was in control by carrying out a massacre of at least 12 opponents in the coastal village of Morne-a-Bateau, 12 miles west of the capital.

The White House would prefer to frighten the military out of office. As the Pentagon confirmed US Marines were practising how to invade Haiti, Senator Sam Nunn, chairman of the Services Committee, said that Haiti was not a 'vital US interest'.

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