U.S. denies forcing out Haiti's president
WASHINGTON -- Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said last night from exile in the Central African Republic that the United States forced him out of power against his will. The State Department, the White House and the Pentagon all dismissed Aristide's charge as baseless and "nonsense."
In separate telephone interviews with CNN and The Associated Press, Aristide said U.S. military forces had forced him to leave. He added that they would "start shooting and killing" if he refused, but it was unclear in The Associated Press interview if he was referring to the U.S. forces or the rebels.
Aristide also said the United States had prevented his U.S. security company from sending reinforcements in recent weeks.
Aristide was put in contact with The Associated Press by the Rev. Jesse Jackson after a news conference, where the civil rights leader called on Congress to investigate Aristide's ouster.
Secretary of State Colin Powell declared the assertion "absurd."
"He was not kidnapped. We did not force him onto the airplane," Powell told reporters yesterday. "He went onto the airplane willingly. And that's the truth."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan dismissed Aristide's allegations as a "conspiracy theory."
The allegations came as rebels rolled into the capital, Port-au-Prince, where they were greeted warmly by thousands of people who had taken to the streets in celebration of Aristide's departure.
The dispute over Aristide's departure Sunday added a bitter twist to the ouster of Haiti's first democratically elected president amid violence, looting and an armed revolt. The United States had sought to portray Aristide's departure as a voluntary constitutional solution to the crisis. Aristide's allegation, initially conveyed to Democratic members of Congress, thrust the Bush administration onto the defensive.
Earlier yesterday Reps. Maxine Waters of California and Charles Rangel of New York held press conferences to tell of the phone calls they had received from Aristide yesterday morning in which he told them that he had been forced out of office against his will in what amounted to a coup by the United States.
"He told me, 'The world must know it was a coup. I was kidnapped. I was forced out. That's what happened. I did not resign,' " Waters said yesterday in a statement.
Waters, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, has been a friend and supporter of Aristide. She and her husband visited him in Haiti in recent weeks and told reporters when she returned that she feared the United States would try to removed him from office.
Rangel, another member of the Black Caucus who has been in close touch with Aristide in recent weeks, also received a call from the exiled leader relaying a similar story, according to Emile Milne, Rangel's press secretary. Randall Robinson, an African American author and friend of Aristide's, told CNN yesterday that Aristide had also called him to inform him that he had been forced out.
In Haiti yesterday, a rebel convoy entered the capital to the cheers of thousands celebrating Aristide's ouster. Rebels occupied the national police headquarters in Port-au-Prince but kept away from the U.S.-guarded presidential palace.
Dozens of insurgents packing an eclectic array of weapons dating to World War II swaggered around a posh hotel where rebel leader Guy Philippe met with members of the political coalition that opposed Aristide. He was joined by rebel commander Louis-Jodel Chamblain, who is a former army death squad leader and a convicted assassin.
Philippe said he planned to make preparations for the new president, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre, to assume office, as called for in the constitution.
"We're just going to make sure the palace is clean for the president to come ... that there is no threat there," he said as his convoy of 70 rebels approached the capital.
They were greeted by thousands of Haitians, many shouting "Liberty!" and "Aristide is gone!" as the convoy later rolled into the plaza near the National Palace.
But a half dozen U.S. Marines guarded the palace and the rebels did not approach. Philippe has said that he has no political aspirations but wants the Haitian army reinstituted. The military ousted Aristide in 1991, and after Aristide returned, backed by U.S. Marines sent by the Clinton administration, he disbanded the army in 1995.
There were reports of reprisal killings of militant Aristide supporters accused of terrorizing people. Also, an AP reporter saw four bodies at Carrefour, on the outskirts of the capital, three of them with hands tied behind their backs and shot in the head execution-style.
The fourth body was that of a man allegedly shot by police, said witness Charlie LaPlanche. "He ran out of the (police) pickup truck and then it became a manhunt. He went into a house. They found him. And then they took him out and executed him," he said.
Powell said U.S. forces "will have a lead role" initially in restoring order to Haiti in the wake of the three-week rebellion that swept Aristide from power. The U.N. Security Council late Sunday approved deployment of a multinational force to Haiti.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 U.S. troops would go to Haiti for a "relatively short period." They would participate in an interim force, which could include as many as 5,000 troops from several countries, that would stay until replaced by a U.N. peacekeeping force.
There were no clashes between the rebel force and the U.S. and French troops, who were establishing security at diplomatic missions and other sites. Philippe earlier said he welcomed the peacekeepers.
Powell said he did not want certain rebel leaders to take any role in a new government. Philippe was an officer in the army when it repressed dissident politicians.
"Some of these individuals we would not want to see re-enter civil society in Haiti because of their past records, and this is something we will have to work through," Powell said.
Amnesty International called for international peacekeepers to arrest Chamblain and Jean Pierre Baptiste, also a rebel, who escaped from jail after being convicted in the 1994 massacre of 15 Aristide supporters.
Not everyone was happy to see the rebels in the capital. Some residents watched indifferently, their arms folded, as the convoy passed.
Philippe, formerly a provincial police chief, first went to the national police headquarters. Many of the rebels then settled into the nearby former headquarters of the army. The rebels include many former soldiers.
Among those at the hotel meeting with the rebel leader was Evans Paul, a former mayor of Port-au-Prince and a top opposition figure. Paul said Philippe "has played an important role."
Industrialist Charles Henry Baker, an opposition leader, said Philippe offered his troops to help maintain order amid reports of continued looting in the capital. Baker said his group welcomed the offer.
One young rebel standing outside the meeting predicted militant members of Aristide's Lavalas party would be executed.
"I shot some looters yesterday. They have to be shot," the rebel said as he stood outside the meeting in a black flak vest, cradling an M-4 assault rifle. "There are some very minimal numbers of Lavalas who cannot be saved," he said, adding that the vast majority would be spared.
Col. David Berger, head of the U.S. Marine contingent, said 150 Marines had arrived from the 8th Battalion, based in Camp Lejeune, N.C., to "secure key sites in the capital."
"People who interfere with that mission, we will handle with appropriate force," Berger told AP.
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