Haiti deaths mar Clinton visit

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The Independent Online

in Port-au-Prince

It was a murder almost every Haitian had expected, although only the killers knew who the victim would be. As it turned out, it was Mireille Durocher, a beautiful 35-year-old lawyer and outspoken critic of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was shot in a traffic jam here on Tuesday afternoon.

With President Bill Clinton arriving here tomorrow to oversee the handover from American to United Nations troops, Haitians had expected some kind of incident. The message, they said, would be that Haiti was still unstable, that the American troops should stay.

Given that Mrs Durocher was prominent in Haiti's mulatto lite and had served under the military rgime that ousted Mr Aristide, the message was meant to be obvious: Aristide supporters killed her. In Haiti, however, things are rarely what they seem. Many believed that Durocher was killed by her own anti-Aristide camp, to disrupt the Clinton visit and parliamentary elections scheduled for June.

Despite the arrival here of a team from the FBI, sent by President Clinton to investigate the murder, it is unlikely Haitians will ever know who ordered the killing.

Durocher was one of Haiti's best known lawyers and served as chef de cabinet for Emile Jonaissant, the front-man "president" of the military rgime that ousted Mr Aristide in 1991 and, in turn, was ousted by the American intervention last September.

Only last week she announced she had formed a political party, called the Movement for National Integration, to run against Mr Aristide in the June elections, and the presidential elections in December.

Eloquent in English, she was a favourite contact of foreign journalists.

It was 3.45pm on Tuesday when she and a friend, Eugne Baillerjeaux, were stuck in a traffic jam on Port-au-Prince's busy Martin Luther King Avenue. Baillerjeaux was driving when three gunmen jumped from another car and fired automatic rifles at the pair.

The killers' professionalism was clear, as only one bullet hole was visible in the car's bodywork. The other bullets all went through the side windows, killing Durocher and Baillerjeaux instantly. The three gunmen calmly re-entered their car, and drove off.

What happened next was symptomatic of the confusion over who is in charge in Haiti, confusion which could deepen with the hand-over to UN control.

First, US soldiers arrived on the scene, then Canadian troops wearing the blue berets of the UN force, then Jordanian soldiers, alsofrom the UN.

Five hours after the shooting, when the street was black but for the lights of television crews, the bodies were still in the car. Then, a Haitian judge appeared, a piece of paper was signed and the bodies were taken to a US military base.

A spokesperson for Mr Clinton said he would go ahead with tomorrow's visit, during which he and the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, will preside over the official hand-over to UN peace-keeping troops. The killing of Durocher, however, highlighted the potential security problems that Mr Clinton may face.

Mr Clinton is scheduled to spend 11 hours here, decorating US soldiers for acts of bravery since the September intervention, talking to Mr Aristide and handing over command to the UN. Many Haitians said they feared further violence in an attempt to keep the Americans here. Overall, the American presence was welcomed. But a small anti-American backlash has built up over recent weeks, including supporters and opponents of Mr Aristide.