The great persuader flies in to meet Haitian military

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The Independent Online
FORMER US President Jimmy Carter, ex-armed forces chief of staff General Colin Powell and Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia arrived here yesterday on behalf of President Bill Clinton in a last-ditch attempt to avert an outright military invasion of Haiti. The three men flew in on the first flight to arrive here in six weeks for talks with Haiti's de facto military and civilian rulers.

In a brief airport statement, translated into French by none other than Haiti's Information Minister, Jacques St Louis, Mr Carter was surprisingly conciliatory. He said his 'very simple but very important mission' was 'to emphasise a peaceful revolution, working closely with the leaders of Haiti'.

The trio held a three-hour meeting with Generals Raoul Cedras and Philippe Biamby of Haiti but made no comment before they were driven away afterwards to a luxury hotel above Port-au-Prince where they spent last night. It was not clear whether discussions would continue today.

While Mr Carter and the delegation were at the military headquarters around 1,000 noisy demonstrators, many of them obviously police or soldiers in plain clothes, shouted anti- Aristide slogans and held signs saying: 'If you touch the armed forces you wull be burned'.

Supporters of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whom Mr Clinton has pledged to restore, were surprised by Mr Carter's reference to working closely with 'the leaders of Haiti'. Less than 48 hours earlier, President Clinton had described the de facto leaders as the most brutal regime in the Western hemisphere. Analysts here said the conciliatory language and the fact that key leaders had agreed to see the delegation suggested an overall deal may have been reached.

Many of the capital's poor were fleeing into the countryside yesterday as Mr Carter flew in. Clutching their meagre possessions, they scrambled on lorries and jammed buses heading out of town.

The exodus has been joined by families of leading junta supporters, including that of the capital's police chief, Lt-Col Joseph Michel Francois, who have been fleeing over the border into the Dominican Republic.

Still, in such inaptly named slum neighbourhoods as Cite Soleil, most would support invasion, but fear a backlash from their old enemies, the straw- hatted Tontons Macoutes gunmen or the new attaches, so named because they are attached to the police.

A group of edgy attaches stopped us at gunpoint on Friday night, ordered us out of our car and searched us and the vehicle. It is they, not troops or regular police, who control the city's streets by night. One was listening through headphones to one of the miniature Radio Shack Fun Mate FM/AM radios dropped from US planes.

The Americans had apparently hoped the radios would allow Haitians to tune in to Radio Democracy, an FM station beamed from a C-130 transport plane that cruises high over Haiti. But the attaches were patrolling the city, shooting in the air to discourage Haitians from picking up the radios. Up in Petionville, where the wealthy mulattos (of mixed race) play tennis, eat French cuisine and gamble in casinos, the expected invasion is unpopular. Many fear that the return of Fr Aristide could lead to what Haitians call dechoukage (vengeance attacks), ruining their businesses and destroying their way of life.

While General Cedras and the other man whose departure the US has demanded, police chief Francois, have shown signs of faltering, General Cedras's right-hand-man, General Biamby, continued to insist yesterday that he would fight, despite rumours that he was negotiating his departure.

General Biamby, whose father Pierre was known as much for his prowess as centre-forward for the national football team as for his term as private secretary to the old dictator, Francois 'Papa Doc' Duvalier, once shot himself through his stomach fat 'to see how it felt'.

He trained with the US 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Benning, Georgia, so he knows what he may be up against when it is men, not radios, that start dropping in by parachute.

General Cedras himself, known by some in Creole as Ti Rouge (the Little Red One) because of his light complexion, first surfaced as a bodyguard to Michelle Duvalier, wife of Papa Doc's son and successor, Jean- Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier. He trained at a Spanish military academy in Toledo and did a year's course in psychological warfare in Taiwan.

While little was known of him before the 1991 coup that overthrew Fr Aristide, acquaintances say he now believes fate has led him to face up to Mr Clinton. Haitians reckon that if he does flee he will make a face-saving pledge to return 'when my people need me'.

Lt-Col Francois, the man who initiated the 1991 coup, remains an enigma. Blamed by many Haitians for the human rights violations cited by Mr Clinton, he has remained virtually silent and out of sight.

Many Haitians who oppose an American invasion are invoking voodoo spirits against Mr Clinton and his troops. And many - pro- and anti-invasion - are convinced that the voodoo spells led an American to crash his light plane into the White House garden last week and forced the US warship Monsoon to run aground off Port-au-Prince on Thursday.

(Photograph omitted)