Fears for Haiti as US force quits

Eighteen months after the US occupied Haiti to restore ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the last American combat troops left the country yesterday, rightfully claiming a resounding success in keeping the peace. But what now?

The Americans left security in the hands of 1,900 United Nations soldiers from Canada, Pakistan and Bangladesh. When these pull out on 30 June, a fledgling and already much-criticised police force of 5,300 Haitians will be faced with defending democracy and ensuring that the disbanded but long-powerful Haitian military does not rise from the ashes.

Diplomats in Haiti and neighbouring Dominican Republic say there are indications that exiled former military officers loyal to the ousted dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, may have been planning a coup after the departure of US and UN troops.

That, apparently, was the reason the Dominican Republic government locked up Lieutenant-Colonel Michel Francois, former head of Haiti's military- led police and the driving force behind the 1991 coup against Mr Aristide, and Franck Romain, former mayor of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

When the US ordered the 1991 coup leaders out of the country in September 1994, including Colonel Francois and General Raoul Cedras, nothing was said about their return.

And what of the old Tontons Macoutes or their later manifestation, the Fraph (Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti) who terrorised Haitians before the US intervention?

"These guys are still out there and they may have weapons," Stan Schrager, spokesman for the US embassy in Port-au-Prince, told the Independent yesterday. "What happens after June 30, when the UN troops leave? I don't know."