US warships sent to blockade Haiti: UN observers flee island as Clinton raises the stakes

BILL CLINTON yesterday ordered six United States naval destroyers to waters off Haiti to enforce sanctions, including an embargo on oil sales ordered by the United Nations Security Council, aimed at forcing the Haitian military regime from power. Late last night, the UN special envoy, Dante Caputo, said most of the UN civilian mission to monitor human rights would leave for the Dominican Republic yesterday and today.

The embargo takes effect from Monday night and follows the refusal of the Haitian military to keep to the terms of an agreement to step down and allow the return of a civilian government under the elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, ousted two years ago. General Raoul Cedras, the army commander, refused to resign yesterday as he had originally agreed.

'I have today ordered six destroyers to patrol waters off Haiti so they are in a position to enforce sanctions fully when they come into effect on Monday,' President Clinton said. He said he had also ordered an infantry company to stand by at the US base Guantanamo in Cuba.

Mr Clinton cited the refusal of the Haitian military to abide by the terms of the accords known as the Governor's Island agreement signed in New York on 3 July. In addition to the reimposition of UN sanctions, lifted in August, the US is to revoke the visas of military officers and their supporters as well as freezing their assets in the US.

The strength of the US action is in response to the refusal of the Haitian authorities to allow a US naval troopship to land 200 American and Canadian soldiers at Port-au-Prince dock on Monday. Bands of gunmen known as 'attaches', who act as auxiliary police in plainclothes, menaced US diplomats who had come to see the troops, who were to act as advisers and technical assistants, disembark in Haiti.

Having stopped the arrival of US troops, the first of a detachment of 600, General Cedras and Lieutenant-Colonel Michel Francois, the chief of the Port-au-Prince police, showed growing confidence that they could defy the US and UN with impunity.

On Thursday the Justice Minister, Guy Malary, a member of the new civilian cabinet, was assassinated as he left his ministry a few hundred yards from General Cedras's headquarters.

The military government closed down Port-au-Prince yesterday in a day of mourning for Mr Malary. But there is little doubt that his assassins come from the band of 1,500 attaches controlled by Colonel Francois. On 11 September, with the direct assistance of uniformed police, attaches had dragged Antoine Izmery, one of President Aristide's main supporters, from a church in the heart of the capital and shot him through the head.

Some 300 UN observers, in charge of monitoring human rights abuses, were unable to stop these and other killings apparently arranged to prevent Fr Aristide returning on 30 October. Canadian and French police officers, the first of a force of 700 being sent by the UN, are also being withdrawn.

The embargo enforced by US destroyers is likely to be more effective than before, though the military is reported to have stockpiled three months' supply of oil. The 7,000-strong army and police, together with paramilitary death squads, have a monopoly of armed force on the island but will have difficulty maintaining power.

President Aristide was elected with 67 per cent of the vote in 1990 and, after two years in exile, there is no sign of his popularity diminishing. The army high command may therefore find they have overplayed their hand and are now isolated.

(Photograph omitted)