Haiti Showdown: Death squads may survive new order

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BY FOCUSING efforts on removing the three main Haitian leaders from power, human rights organisations fear that President Bill Clinton will fail to uproot the army and police death squads. Without their removal, a restored President Jean-Bertrand Aristide will enjoy limited authority and will be vulnerable to a second coup.

In seeking to ease the army commander, Raoul Cedras, and his two top lieutenants out of power by negotiations rather than by a full-scale invasion, President Clinton's negotiating team, led by the former president Jimmy Carter, face pressure from the Haitian military not to make significant changes in the armed forces.

The Haitian army and police are only 7,600 strong. But power in the country is also held by 565 section chiefs, each of whom has a private army of up to several hundred armed men. 'You can't retrain these guys,' said Bill O'Neill of the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees and a former United Nations official overseeing human rights in Haiti. 'Their whole culture is repressive and they will always act like an occupying army in their own country.'

Sensing the lack of public and Congressional support for the invasion, President Clinton has made the removal of General Cedras, his chief of staff, Philippe Biamby and the Port-au-Prince police chief, Michel Francois, the touchstone for the success of his policy.

Mr O'Neill says that the negotiations resemble those last year at Governor's Island, New York, when General Cedras agreed to resign. But, by the assassination of Fr Aristide's supporters, the army was able to retain effective power. At the same time, Fr Aristide came under intense pressure from the United States to agree to an amnesty to those involved in killing 3,000 Haitians since the 1991 coup.

The reshaping of Haiti's security forces, following the departure of General Cedras, has been a matter of dispute between Fr Aristide and the US. Washington does not want to employ its own troops, because it wants to limit political involvement, but wishes to retrain about 3,000 of the existing security forces. Fr Aristide wants no more than 1,500 of the police to come from the present force.

Fr Aristide's supporters suspect that the US wants to keep a rump of the old armed forces in service, to prevent the restored leader introducing radical reforms. The CIA and Defense Intelligence Agencies have always had close links with the the army. The CIA created the Haitian National Intelligence Service as an anti-narcotics organisation. But it was used mainly to spy on dissidents.

The Governor's Island agreement in 1993 was undermined because the US, in its anxiety to announce that it had resolved the Haiti crisis, believed the army's promise to share power with its opponents. Two years earlier the military broke their promise to abide by the terms of the election in which Fr Aristide won 67 per cent of the vote.

The pattern has been for the army commanders to stick with agreements only as long as they are under US pressure. They may calculate that even if General Cedras, General Biamby and Colonel Francois leave the country, the old power structure devised by Papa Doc Duvalier will remain in place.

(Photograph omitted)