It happened early on Tuesday morning. At the moment when Haiti's military rulers were defying President Bill Clinton by expelling 92 United Nations Human Rights monitors, gunmen under their control were carrying out their single biggest massacre for months. The sweet smell from three freshly dug mass graves on either side of the main road leading west from the Haitian capital marks where the bodies are buried.
A torn grey T-shirt, soaked in blood and knotted as if it was used as a blindfold, was lying yesterday near one of the graves beside a small concrete bridge over a dry water course. There were two black shoes and what appeared to be a dried pool of blood. The shallow gulley where the bodies were buried is largely filled with crumbly brown earth dug out from the side of the hillside.
The graves are all within half-a- mile of each other. A woman in a pink skirt and white headband who was washing clothes in the forecourt of her shack, said: 'I saw them throw the bodies of five boys into a spring. Later the police came and told us to bury them.' She pointed to a spot about 20 yards away. We could not examine this grave closely because our Creole-speaking Haitian guide became frightened when a man in an unmarked car, whom he suspected to be a policeman, drove past us twice. He wanted to return to Port- au-Prince before the man alerted the nearest police check-point.
But the accounts of witnesses and the condition of the two graves we closely examined all tally. One, in a hollow 10 yards from the road, has been roughly covered by shrubs chopped down with a sharp knife like a machete - universally used by Haitian farmers - and are only beginning to wilt. Given the heat of the Haitian summer this fits in with the bodies being buried little more than a day before. The smell from the corpses, though distinctive, is not yet overpowering, which again suggests the men died very recently.
The man in the beach-hut was nervous. He did not have a job but sold bottles of rum and cigarettes to passers-by. Gesturing with his hand to the coastal strip of shacks and small banana fields, he said: 'This is a savage zone. If you walk about at night they will kill you.' He said he did not recognise any of the bodies he buried but he suspected they came from the neighbouring towns of Carrefour Laogane.
He said some of the dead were well-dressed but it is likely they were killed elsewhere and only taken to Morne-a-Bateau to be dumped. None of the witnesses said they heard shots and there were no large puddles of blood.
Who were they? A priest in Port-au-Prince says he knows of 21 people who are arrested, of whom he believes 12 were executed. But the numbers buried appear to have been larger. With the expelled UN human rights monitors flying out of Haiti yesterday it will be difficult to discover who lies in the Morne-a-Bateau graves and why they died. Probably they were killed by the so-called paramilitary attaches - who formed the death squad - because they were supporters of exiled President Jean- Bertrand Aristide.
Their bodies were dumped semi-publicly - the burials were ordered by the local chief of police who was probably not responsible for their deaths - to show, as the potential American invasion fleet gathers just over the horizon, who still holds the power of life and death in Haiti.
Why did they choose Morne-a- Bateau? Traditionally Haitian death squads have used a sinister heath of shrubs and dry grass called titanyen below the mountain on the coast road on the other side of Port-au-Prince. A local man said: 'There are a lot of chiefs loyal to the government in the area. You can tell the attaches because they usually drive Toyota cars.'
The strength of the military regime in Haiti lies not solely in the 7,000-strong police and army, which has no air force and just three armoured cars. If it depended on these forces alone it would not be able to control 6.5 million Haitians. Its real power is rather the mafiosi-like network of attaches and gunmen - answering to the heads of more than 550 sections into which Haiti is administratively divided - who batten on the population and keep it under control.
Human rights specialists in Haiti have always been convinced that the military and police leaders have tight control over the death squads. Their past history appears to show that they can rein them in or turn them loose at will.