US troops puzzle over just why they are in Haiti

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The Independent Online
UNITED STATES troops might soon be stealing the First World War song that helped to keep up British morale in the trenches. 'We're here because we're here because we're here because we're here.'

Why the Americans are in Haiti is a puzzling question, after three days of occupation. 'We are not here to guarantee law and order,' the commander of the operation, General Hugh Shelton, said yesterday. 'It is not our policy to intervene in Haitian matters. That is for the Haitian police and military.' 'If you're not here to guarantee law and order, what is your mission?' he was asked. 'We are here to restore democracy,' he replied.

The General felt a need to brief the press after Tuesday's street battles and police violence, in which one Haitian was beaten to death and many injured. The dead man was battered only 30 yards from soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division, based at Port-au-Prince harbour.

Meanwhile, tension rose last night when a nine-year- old boy was shot dead by a man in civilian clothes, whom locals described as an attache, a paramilitary gunman. The boy, Anso Julien, was hit by a bullet the gunman was aiming at another man who had fled, witnesses said. The boy's mother, Solange Louissaint, wandered in a daze outside her home holding her arms aloft and shouting 'the attaches killed my boy'.

Major-General David Meade, the division's commander and General Shelton's deputy in the overall command, said he witnessed much of the violence, although not the killing, from a window of the US embassy. The General did not seem very concerned. 'On a scale of one-to-ten, I'd say it was a three or four. They (the police) didn't gang up on them.'

General Meade was asked whether his men were upset by the brutality. Their rules of engagement forbid them from taking action unless their lives are at stake. 'I think this is all confusing for soldiers. We were planning for months, in a dramatic way, to invade Haiti,' he said. 'We have got a force that is extremely frustrated,' General Shelton admitted.

The plan was to arrive like a massive anti-terrorist assault, relying on infantry and avoiding heavy weapons. The US forces expected to be in control in two hours. Haiti's generals would have been given one last chance to surrender before their military headquarters were stormed.

Many soldiers are critical of the decision to switch from invasion to agreed intervention. 'It's like being sent to put out a fire, then being told to let it burn but make sure you don't get hurt yourself,' said one soldier.

Many officers are embarrassed by President Bill Clinton's emphasis on Haiti 'not being worth a single American life'. Some believe the situation is the same as it would have been after an invasion. The difference is that the 'bad guys' are still in power and likely to wield influence even if they step down by 15 October, under the terms of the deal with former President Jimmy Carter.

General Shelton, who met the de facto military ruler, General Raoul Cedras, yesterday referred to a 'spirit of co- ordination and co-operation . . . and mutual respect' in his dealings with Haiti's military rulers. Until the assault was called off on Sunday night, General Shelton's men had orders to attack General Cedras's headquarters, give him a chance to surrender, or kill him if he resisted.

The 10,000 US troops are based mostly in Port-au- Prince harbour and at the capital's tiny airport.

Supporters of the exiled President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, are urging the Americans to patrol slum areas, with such colourful names as Cite Soleil, Brooklyn and Kuwait City. In Cite Soleil yesterday, although the atmosphere was calm, residents were terrified of talking to reporters. They were afraid of the bulky men in civilian clothes who appeared to be the feared 'attaches.'

The US forces are hoping to disarm the attaches and other armed civilians by using a 'buy-back' scheme, paying them dollars 50 ( pounds 32) for a pistol and dollars 100 for a rifle.

Some pro-Aristide residents said they intended to await the arrival of the full complement of US forces, to ensure the greatest potential protection in a confrontation with the security forces. That presumes the American troops would get involved.

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