Haitians `warned of Durocher death plot'

The US peace force hands over to the UN in Haiti today but lawlessness still rules, writes Phil Davison in Port-au-Prince

As President Bill Clinton prepared to visit Haiti today and hand over security to the United Nations, US officials said they had warned the Haitian government of the plot to kill a leading opposition politician, Mireille Durocher.

Mme Durocher, an outspoken critic of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was shot dead on Tuesday with her driver in an incident seen as aimed at disrupting the US President's visit and the democratic process.

Her family blamed supporters of Mr Aristide and US forces for failing to maintain security in the capital. However, a US embassy spokesman, Stanley Schrager, said yesterday that US forces had warned of a plot to kill the lawyer-politician and had detained four men on 19 March. She apparently rejected a bodyguard or added security.

President Aristide's spokespersons said his supporters would have had nothing to do with the killing. Some pro-Aristide Haitians expressed surprise over the murder. Four men, including two brothers, Eddy and Patrick Moise - radicals who have often praised Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi - had been detained. If they were involved in the plot, would their co-plotters not have called off the killing, these Haitians ask.

Confusion increased as Larry Rohter, a reporter for the New York Times, said he had seen Mme Durocher in Camp Democracy, the biggest US base here, on Tuesday morning, a few hours before she was killed.

President Clinton is due to perform a symbolic handover to the UN Secretary- General, Boutros Boutros Ghali, today during an 11-hour visit.

Some 2,500 US troops will stay on, donning blue helmet covers and painting jeeps white, as part of a 6,000-strong UN force due to spend a year here. Six months after the peaceful occupation of 19 September, Mr Schrager insisted yesterday that "we have created a safe and secure environment for the transition to democracy" - local elections in June and a November presidential ballot.

Many Haitians disagree. Bustling during the day since a lifted embargo restored petrol imports, Port-au-Prince is an eerie ghost town at night. The US and UN forces appear to lie low and armed civilians still have the run of the town.

Tuesday's murder of Mme Durocher, who had just set up a nationalist political party to oppose Mr Aristide, and the shooting on Wednesday of two US missionaries in the southern town of Jacmel added to the atmosphere of lawlessness. Few believe Mr Schrager's explanation that the wounded Americans were shot for money. Despite extreme poverty - per capita income is estimated at only $230 a year, or roughly 40p a day - robbing foreigners remains remarkably uncommon.

Mr Clinton may see anti-American graffiti on Port-au-Prince walls, but he may draw comfort from the fact that most is clearly by the same hand.

Apathy among Haitians is most likely to welcome him as he meets President Aristide, chats to 200 US troops - the vast majority on security detail - and hands over the security reins to the UN. Although the poor majority welcomed the occupation and the departure of the former military rulers, disillusion grew as the Americans failed to guarantee street security or raise the standard of living. On Wednesday, thousands gathered near the presidential palace demanding higher living standards and greater security.

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