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US tranfers Haiti to United Nations { June 2 2004 }

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June 2, 2004
U.S. Begins Transfer of a Shaky Haiti to U.N. Hands

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, June 1 - United States commanders began turning over this anarchic, flood-ravaged, starving nation 500 miles from Florida to a handful of United Nations troops on Tuesday.

The 3,600-member American-led military force brought a measure of stability to Haiti after the first Marines landed Feb. 29, the day President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced from power under rebel attack and American pressure.

Despite its best efforts during the past three months, it leaves behind a mess. The United Nations mission is to help make Haiti a functioning democracy capable of holding national elections sometime next year. That task may take longer than the mission's six-month mandate.

The rebels first rose up against President Aristide in February, and they still hold much of the countryside. Since their rebellion began, Haiti has been hit by disasters both natural and man-made.

In March, political chaos led to looting and burning in the capital, destroying government offices, hospital clinics and warehouses holding food for the hungry in the poorest nation in the Western world. In April, a transitional government installed with American backing proved unable to provide most basic public services, surviving on a lifeline of foreign money and military force.

Then came the torrential rains that killed thousands and left tens of thousands homeless a week ago.

The United Nations force, now a few hundred soldiers but intended to become 8,000 strong, confronts the immediate crisis of the flood. The toll is more than 2,600 dead and missing in Haiti, 700 dead and missing over the border in the Dominican Republic. The missing are presumed dead.

Some 75,000 people affected by the flood will need help to get through the rainy season, which officially started Tuesday.

International aid agencies will bear the brunt of that task. They say they initially underestimated the scale of the disaster and are scrambling for food, money and transportation to flood-struck villages, where roads have been eradicated.

American helicopters carrying tons of food to 15,000 survivors ceased flying Monday, a week after the floods struck.

"The U.N. peacekeeping mission doesn't have helicopters right now, and it will take weeks for them to deploy some," said ═˝igo ┴lvarez, a spokesman for the United Nations World Food Program, which was already feeding half a million Haitians before the flood. "Without them, we have a big problem to solve. The helicopters were essential."

Guy Gauvreau, the food program's director in Haiti, added, "We deeply deplore that the multinational force has other priorities."

The aid workers are talking about using mules to ferry aid to thousands of victims. Given the state of Haiti's interim government, the agencies say they may have to rent bulldozers and rebuild the ruined roads themselves.

All the while, Haitian politics continues, a discourse often carried out at gunpoint.

The interim Haitian government is outgunned by rebel forces, who control many Haitian towns and villages. The rebels include former soldiers of the Haitian military, a force corrupted by Colombian cocaine kingpins and charged with political killings. In 1991, the military helped overthrow Mr. Aristide, Haiti's first - and only - democratically elected leader.

These rebels are calling for the resurrection of the Haitian Army, disbanded by Mr. Aristide in 1995.

American commanders say the last thing Haiti needs is the return of its military, long an instrument of political terror. Armed Aristide loyalists remain a force in Port-au-Prince, though Mr. Aristide is in exile in South Africa, and unlikely to be allowed to return anytime soon.

Only a handful of the soldiers for the force cobbled together by the United Nations are now in Haiti. They have no headquarters and little money.

Some troops from Canada, France and Chile, nations now in the American-led force, will remain in Haiti. A handful of Americans here might stay past June 30, the deadline for their withdrawal.

The Americans may return. Gen. James T. Hill, chief of the United States Southern Command, is talking privately about rotating American forces through Haiti in military exercises later this year, a senior Western diplomat said Tuesday.

Brig. Gen. Ronald S. Coleman of the United States Marines handed over the international military presence to Gen. Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira, of the Brazilian Army, at a ceremony held Tuesday morning at the National Police Academy here. He will lead the United Nations force.

"The stakes are high," Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, said in a message read at the ceremony on Tuesday. "This time, let us get it right."

The event at the academy was largely protocol. Actual command authority will be vested in the United Nations force on June 20. Some 1,200 Brazilian troops, 150 from Paraguay, 150 from Uruguay and 350 from Argentina should be on the ground in Haiti by June 30.

The United Nations has mandated 6,700 troops and 1,622 police officers from 30 countries. The mission may never reach that force; less than half that number have signed on.

The American-led disarmament effort rounded up fewer than 200 weapons. The new force has a mandate for disarmament, a task Haiti's interim government lacks the power to undertake. "Disarmament is very important," General Pereira said. "However, spiritual disarmament is even more important than physical disarmament."

The United Nations troops, who are here as peacekeepers, are unlikely to try to disarm gunmen by force.

Though American troops are leaving, American foreign policy stays the same.

It seeks to stop the flow of refugees to Florida. It wants to fight cocaine traffickers' power to corrupt Haitian officials who help ship their drugs to the United States. It will assist Haiti's interim government as it tries to find its way to elections in 2005.

The interim government was appointed in the chaotic days following the fall of Mr. Aristide, with armed rebels looting the capital and pro-Aristide militias shooting at the newly landed marines. It remains unrecognized by Caricom, the 15-member community of Caribbean nations.

Many Haitians see the interim government as hand-picked or heavily influenced by the United States, which escorted Mr. Aristide out of Haiti on an American plane. In the slums of Port-au-Prince, where Mr. Aristide's rise from priest to president began, many still see him as Haiti's true leader.

Leslie F. Manigat, who served as Haiti's president in 1991 and now leads a new political party, the National Democratic Progressive Coalition, said the desperate problems of the past three months will resound long after the six-month mandate of the new United Nations force.

"These latest events are going to affect this country on the economic and the political level for a very long time," he said. "There have been mistakes, lots of mistakes since Aristide left, starting with the way in which he left, and the way things have been handled since then."

"I am not a pessimist by nature," the former president said. "But I have gnawing doubts about the future."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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