Police chief flees as Haiti regime crumbles

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IN A SIGN that the military government in Haiti is falling apart, Lieutenant-Colonel Michel Francois, the feared police chief of Port-au-Prince, yesterday fled to the neighbouring Dominican Republic. One of the top three leaders of the 1991 coup, he is believed to have controlled death squads that killed about 3,000 people during the past three years.

The United States made clear that it expected the other two military leaders, the army commander, Lieutenant-General Raoul Cedras, and the chief of staff, General Philippe Biamby, to step down and follow Colonel Francois out of the country.

'That's one out of three, only two left. So I think we're on the right glide path,' General John Shalikashvili, chairman of the US military joint chiefs of staff, said at a Defense Department news conference. In New York, the ousted President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, told the United Nations he would be back in Haiti in 11 days and that on his return he will celebrate a festival of reconciliation, peace and democracy.

In the Haitian capital there were other signs that the grip of the military and their paramilitary gunmen was collapsing. Emmanuel Constant, leader of Haiti's main paramilitary group, Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (Fraph), called on his followers to lay down their weapons and said he supported a peaceful transition to democracy and the return of President Aristide.

People in the slums began to round up the men who have terrorised their neighbourhoods. Not far from the US embassy on the waterfront a crowd frogmarched up and down the street a man they called 'Consoleil', who was dressed in the black T-shirt worn by members of Fraph. The crowd seemed undecided about whether to lynch the man. Some favoured handing him over to the US troops. An elderly man called Toussaint Nojour said two nights ago the man had fired shots into his house, a corrugated iron shanty, just missing the head of his baby daughter. He said: 'He should not be allowed to live.'

In the grim slums of the capital, there was more interest in getting rid of local gunmen than the departure of top military leaders. But the flight of Colonel Francois - announced on Creole Radio - sends a message to Haitians that the regime is collapsing. He was widely believed by United Nations human rights monitors to be in control of death squads.

The US intends to set up a new 4,000-strong police force to replace the current one, and is to build a police academy to train new recruits. In consultation with the exiled government, Jan Stromsen, leading a joint Justice Department and State Department task force, said former policemen could apply. But he suggested few would be accepted.

Colonel Francois appears to doubted the wisdom of seeking a confrontation with the US. Through his brother, a former diplomat who lives in the Dominican Republic, he conveyed hopes of reconciliation with the US. General Cedras and General Biamby overruled him. Colonel Francois's departure to the Dominican Republic, where he has bought a house to which had already sent his family, was delayed because he did not have the right documents to cross the border.

Colonel Francois is believed to have accumulated a fortune through helping Colombian drug smugglers to use Haiti as a transit point. Earlier this year he was the subject of an investigation by the Justice Department in the US with a view to possible prosecution.

As the apparatus of police terror in Port-au-Prince breaks down, gunmen who supported the military government are being driven out of the areas they terrorised. But none, so far, has been lynched and looting has been restrained. (Photograph omitted)

Leading article, page 13

Comments