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The Peace Corps also said it was withdrawing about 70 volunteers
The Peace Corps also said it was withdrawing about 70 volunteers
Americans Begin Fleeing Fear-Gripped Haiti
Americans Flee Haiti As Police Abandon More Outposts in Rebellion, Government Supporters Burn Homes
The Associated Press
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti Feb. 20 — Americans began fleeing Haiti on Friday after insurgents torched police outposts and threatened new attacks in a spreading rebellion against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who defiantly declared he's ready to die for his nation.
In Haiti's west, pro-Aristide supporters burned down homes in a seaside neighborhood and fired guns above the heads of residents who jumped into the ocean for safety.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Meanwhile, the new leader of several rebel groups, Guy Philippe, said he plans to attack Cap-Haitien, the government's last remaining stronghold in the north, during carnival celebrations starting Friday. Philippe was Aristide's police chief in Cap-Haitien but fled in 2002 amid charges he was plotting a coup.
Citing mounting violence, the United States on Thursday urged the more than 20,000 Americans in Haiti to leave while transportation was still available. The Peace Corps also said it was withdrawing about 70 volunteers.
The Pentagon said it was sending a small military team to assess the security of the U.S. Embassy and its staff.
Radio stations reported that rebels torched the police station at the northeast border post of Ouanaminthe on Thursday, and witnesses said police fled in fear from their posts in northern Fort Liberte. No rebels were in sight.
The northern rebellion has killed dozens of people, including about 40 police officers, according to Jean-Gerard Dubreuil, undersecretary for public security.
During the night, truckloads of pro-Aristide gunmen attacked a neighborhood in western St. Marc and burned down seven houses, American missionary Terry Snow said, adding that 15 Americans in his group of 20 missionaries fled Haiti this week.
As their houses burned, residents jumped into the sea to get away from gunmen shooting into the air, said Snow, originally from Granbury, Texas.
"These are all innocent people they are not involved in the political conflict," said Snow, 39, who has lived in the neighborhood for 13 years.
"Innocent people are being killed and houses are burned down every day and night in St. Marc and the police are doing nothing."
Snow said the city has been terrorized by the pro-Aristide "Clean Sweep" gang since police regained the city from about 100 rebels last week.
Aristide, wildly popular when he became Haiti's first freely elected leader in 1990, lost support after flawed legislative elections in 2000 led international donors to freeze millions of dollars in aid.
Even before the rebellion, about half of Haiti's 8 million people went hungry daily, according to aid groups.
The latest violence came as the United States and other nations prepared to present Aristide and opposition officials with a political plan as early as Friday.
The plan calls for an interim governing council to advise Aristide, the disarmament of politically allied street gangs and the appointment of a prime minister agreeable to both sides.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said the plan does not call for Aristide's resignation, but the United States would not object if he agreed during negotiations to leave office early. Aristide's term ends February 2006.
Aristide who has survived three assassination attempts and a coup d'etat was defiant Thursday, saying, "I am ready to give my life if that is what it takes to defend my country."
Aristide has said he could not negotiate with "terrorists," though opposition leaders deny his charges that they back the rebels.
"If you are talking about the opposition that is publicly supporting terrorists, don't think I will have the irresponsibility of handing them over such a (prime ministerial) post," Aristide told Radio Canada.
Opposition leader Evans Paul countered by saying, "It will be difficult for us to accept any proposal that doesn't include Aristide's resignation."
The Organization of American States approved a resolution Thursday night expressing "firm support" for Aristide's government in its efforts to "restore public order by constitutional means."
OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria said he was confident that a political solution could come "not in months, but in weeks."
U.S. Ambassador John Maisto told delegates that Haiti's crisis "is due in large part to the failure of the government of Haiti to act in a timely manner to address problems that it knew were growing."
He said the government had not fought police corruption, strengthened its judiciary or restored security.
At Cap-Haitien, armed supporters of Aristide patrolled and vowed to fight any rebel attack. Frightened police remained barricaded in their station, saying they were too few and poorly armed to repel the rebels.
Haiti's police force numbers less than 4,000 and demoralized officers this week deserted at least four provincial posts. Eight officers have sought asylum in Jamaica and the Dominican military said it arrested four fleeing officers this week.
Hungry people in rebel-held Gonaives looted food aid from a rebel storage facility Thursday after being turned away from an aid distribution. Thousands of people, some brandishing machetes and guns, marched through the city supporting the rebellion.
Meanwhile, 20 Haitian refugees arrived by boat in Jamaica the second group in less than a week saying they were fleeing the violence, Jamaican police said.
Haiti's rebellion has raised fears of a mass exodus on the scale of the tens of thousands who fled to Florida when Haiti was under brutal military dictatorships from 1991 to 1994.
President Clinton sent 20,000 troops in 1994 to restore Aristide, end the killings of his supporters and halt the flood of refugees.
photo credit and caption:
A man holding a U.S. flag shouts anti-Aristide slogans as he participates in a rally of the new National Resistance Front To Liberate Haitiin Gonaives, Haiti, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2004. (AP Photo/Walter Astrada).
Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.