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Haitian rebels moving towards capital

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Feb. 26, 2004, 9:22PM

Haitian rebels moving toward nation's capital
Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Rebel fighters moved closer to the capital today and awaited an order to attack, their leader said, as pressure mounted for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to resign and for the deployment of international peacekeepers.

Haitians and foreigners fled the capital, which was expected to fall easily to the insurgents, since hordes of Haiti's small, ill-equipped police force have been deserting their posts without a rebel in sight.

Members of the U.N. Security Council met on Haiti this afternoon.

Americans with M-16s guarded a convoy of United Nations workers and their families on the way to the airport, past flaming barricades built by Aristide supporters to block the city from rebels who have overrun half of the country in the 3-week-old rebellion.

Many of the dozens of barricades set up Wednesday by Aristide supporters were abandoned today, although it was unclear why. One police officer said the pro-Aristide militants had agreed to man them only at night so business could carry on.

Businesses were shuttered, long lines grew at the few gas stations open, and hardly anyone ventured onto the trash-strewn streets after rebel leader Guy Philippe said his forces were gathering to attack the presidential palace to arrest Aristide.

"It will be over very soon," Philippe said on the radio.

Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Senate Budget Committee today the United States is willing to participate in any international security force sent to Haiti to enforce a political settlement.

The Organization of American States also held a special meeting to discuss the crisis.

Haiti's foreign minister and Aristide's chief of staff were in Paris to meet with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who on Wednesday condemned the president for the crisis in its former colony and indicated he should resign.

De Villepin has called for a civilian peacekeeping force to support a "government of national unity."

Jamaica said it would ask the United Nations to send a peacekeeping force, but that could take weeks.

The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted about a dozen small vessels within 50 miles of the Haitian coast this week, and 546 Haitians have been brought aboard cutters, where they are receiving food and water, spokesman Luis Diaz said.

He said the Coast Guard has intercepted vessels holding more than 350 Haitians on a single boat in the past, so this is not unusual.

"It doesn't appear to be a mass exodus," Diaz said.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, visiting Libya, said the situation was dire.

"Unless something happens immediately, the president could be killed in our own hemisphere," Jackson said in Tripoli. "We must not allow that to happen to that democracy. We must give the best troops to Haiti to protect the president's compound."

Philippe would not say if an attack was imminent.

"It doesn't mean that we're going to attack today. We're just going to take our positions and wait for the right time. They're awaiting the order," he told The Associated Press in an interview in Cap-Haitien, the second-largest city, which fell to the rebels Sunday.

Philippe said his fighters were converging on the capital from the north.

There were no independent eyewitness reports of rebel movement, but there also appeared to be few fighters in Cap-Haitien, where hundreds were seen Wednesday. Cap-Haitien is just 90 miles north of Port-au-Prince, but it is a seven-hour drive over badly potholed roads.

Haiti's police force, just 4,000 for a country of 8 million, is trained to deal with rioters -- not the soldiers who are among the guerrillas.

More than 40 officers were killed in the first 10 days of the rebellion, which erupted Feb. 5. Dominican soldiers said they turned away 37 Haitian officers trying to flee the country this week.

Aristide disbanded the army that ousted him in 1991 after the United States sent 20,000 troops to restore him and halt an exodus of boat people to Florida in 1994.

France and the United States have blamed Aristide for the crisis.

Aristide, a 50-year-old former slum priest, once commanded widespread support as Haiti's first democratically elected leader and savior to the poor, but he has steadily lost support as poverty deepened after his party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000 and international donors suspended aid.

As he has lost support, Aristide is accused of using police and street gangs to attack opponents -- charges he denies.

"The president has no intention of resigning," government spokesman Mario Dupuy told AP. Others, however, spoke openly of it.

On Wednesday, Aristide sent his two daughters on a flight to New York City.

"The day of deliverance has come. Aristide's departure is imminent," opposition politician Claire Lydie Parent said in a radio declaration.

Opposition leaders, who say they are not linked to the rebels, rejected a U.S.-backed proposal for Aristide to remain as president and share power with his political rivals.

"There is a lot of tension today," said Jean Pierre Sully, 30. A planned demonstration in the capital was canceled.

At the airport, Americans with M-16 rifles and bulletproof vests arrived with a convoy of 92 U.N. employees and their families leaving after the United Nations ordered an evacuation of nonessential staff.

Military helicopters from the neighboring Dominican Republic ferried people from its embassy in the hillside suburb of Petionville to the airport. Spain chartered a plane in the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo, that left for Port-au-Prince on Thursday to evacuate 50 nationals.

American ambassador in haiti accuses US of coup { January 29 2006 }
Americans flee haiti as rebellion spreads { February 20 2004 }
Answers to questions about haiti coup { March 2 2004 }
Aristide lawsuit against us france over kidnapping
Aristide supporters attack students { February 21 2004 }
Aristide urges peaceful resistance to occupation
At least 41 die in haiti rebellion
Bush holds out for political settlement
Bush presses aristide to quit { February 29 2004 }
Drug dealer accuses aristide
France calls for aristide to resign { February 26 2004 }
France considers peace keepers for haiti
French and us planes land in haiti capital
Gangs rampage in haiti capital
Haiti uprising spreads
Haitian rebels moving towards capital
IFES helped oust aristide colonize haiti { December 20 2004 }
Marines arrive to guard haiti embassy
Powell disappointed in haiti government { February 12 2004 }
Un fails to evacuate staff from haiti
Us pushes for regime change in haiti
Us wont send haiti help { February 19 2004 }
Whos who in hatian crisis
Why france and us had to crush aristide { March 2 2004 }

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