Crowds roar for revenge as Cedras quits power at last

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The Independent Online
IN FRONT of a crowd calling for his blood, Lieutenant-General Raoul Cedras, the Haitian army commander who seized power in a coup three years ago, yesterday gave up his post. His departure opens the way for the return on Saturday of the man he overthrew, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Speaking from the steps of the yellow-and-white military headquarters, where he was protected by US military police, General Cedras said he was leaving the country 'because my presence could be a pretext for unjustifiable acts'. Last night Madeleine Albright, US ambassador to the UN, said General Cedras was going to 'an undisclosed South American country'.

A crowd of about 1,000 Haitians shouted derisive comments as General Cedras spoke. 'Handcuff him]' they shouted in Creole. 'If he stays we'll give him a red dress,' said one man: it was a Haitian saying that means cutting someone's throat. 'I had to hide for three months because people working for Cedras knew I was Lavalas (Aristide's political movement),' said one student.

General Cedras, who had wanted to stay in Haiti after he resigned, said he was going to protect the armed forces. He thanked the military for their 'courage and cohesion'. As he spoke, his wife, Yanick, in a green polka-dot dress, watched from a balcony.

The ring of US military police around the headquarters - part of a 20,000-strong US contingent - showed who holds real power in Haiti. At the end of the ceremony, people from the crowd ran down the road holding a large stars-and-stripes and a Lavalas flag, showing that, for the moment, Haitians are extremely friendly to the US.

The Americans have a tight grip on the capital. But 14 pro- Aristide supporters in Aqruin, on the south coast, were killed when a lorry drove into a marsh. It is not yet clear if it was deliberate. A man watching General Cedras depart said: 'Just last week they killed my uncle . . . because he took part in a demonstration. I found his body at Titanyen (an area of scrubland outside Port-au-Prince used for dumping bodies) but it was half-eaten by pigs.'

Although President Aristide is likely to return to Port-au-Prince this Saturday, it is unclear how far he will be under the control of the US. A mark of his independence will be his choice of prime minister who, in theory, is as powerful as the president. The US is helping to create a new police force, loyal to civilian government.

With the resignation of General Cedras, the three men who led the coup have gone. The chief of staff, General Philippe Biamby - reputedly the leader least willing to step down - resigned on Sunday. Lieutenant-Colonel Michel Francois, the Port- au-Prince police chief, who was said to control the death squads, left for the Dominican Republic last week.

Although parliament has passed an amnesty for those who committed political crimes in staging the coup - including, presumably, General Cedras - it does not cover those involved in the murder of about 3,000 Haitians in the past three years.

Thanks to Haitians, page 16

(Photograph omitted)