Posted on October 4, 2004

Gunfire Erupts in Pro-Aristide Haiti Slum

AP,, Oct. 3

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Gunfire erupted in a slum teeming with loyalists of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Sunday, sending people scattering through trash-strewn streets following days of political clashes that have left at least 14 dead.

Residents said men fired into the air, stole food from market vendors and burned tires in the streets in the slum of La Saline.

The unrest came a day after police arrested Haiti’s Senate president and two other pro-Aristide politicians following a six-hour standoff in a radio station. Justice Minister Bernard Gousse told reporters the three were suspected of being “intellectual authors” of the violence that erupted Thursday during demonstrations demanding Aristide’s return.

The politicians, who insisted they were innocent, were led out in handcuffs from the offices of Radio Caraibes Saturday night after a judge entered to negotiate their surrender.

Gousse said police found in one of their cars an Uzi submachine gun and a T65 assault rifle, which are illegal in Haiti. “They’re people who are barbaric and violent,” he told reporters.

Pro-Aristide groups criticized the arrests, saying police didn’t have a warrant and had planted the weapons.

Heavy gunfire rang out Saturday night and Sunday in parts of Port-au-Prince. No one was reported killed, but streets remained blocked with overturned wooden market stalls in some areas.

Tensions have erupted as the impoverished country struggles to recover from floods unleashed two weeks ago by Tropical Storm Jeanne, which killed more than 1,550 and left some 900 missing, most presumed dead.

In the hard-hit northwestern city of Gonaives on Sunday, residents brought in two emaciated men found semiconscious on the ground to a clinic run by Argentine troops. Doctors said it appeared the two hadn’t eaten in several days and had psychological trauma one because he lost relatives in the floods.

The other, 40-year-old Jacques Agelus Faustin, was found collapsed under a mango tree.

“We all thought he was dead,” said Soupon Jean-Paul, the friend who found him. “I wasn’t even looking for him at the time.”

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson also visited Gonaives on Sunday, meeting officials and stopping at the clinic, where U.N. peacekeepers have treated hundreds of the wounded.

“There’s no question we have to figure out how to rebuild Gonaives,” Thompson said, adding that would involve creating jobs through public works projects.

Last week, President Bush asked Congress for $50 million for storm-hit Caribbean countries, with about half planned for Haiti. “Help is on the way,” Thompson said before getting on a helicopter to return to Port-au-Prince.

Workers using shovels have begun cleaning up contaminated dried mud that cakes Gonaives’ streets.

Meanwhile, Port-au-Prince’s General Hospital said it admitted two men with gunshot wounds Sunday, including Augustin Peristil, 25, who said he didn’t see who shot him when gunfire erupted Saturday night in La Saline.

Residents said at least five men were killed Friday by gunmen outside the home of an anti-Aristide community leader in the slum Village de Dieu.

Pro-Aristide groups say police and anti-Lavalas gangs also have opened fire on Aristide supporters, killing several people.

A 15-year-old boy was among two shot dead by police Friday during a pro-Aristide march, according to the independent group Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

Others reported killed included one shot at another demonstration Friday and two alleged pro-Aristide gangsters shot by police Thursday.

The headless bodies of three policemen turned up Friday, police said. They, along with a fourth policeman, were believed killed in clashes Thursday, police said.

Aristide, now in exile in South Africa, has accused U.S. agents of ousting him on Feb. 29 amid a bloody rebellion a charge the U.S. government denies.

Aristide’s Lavalas Family party on Thursday began three days of commemoration of the 1991 coup that toppled Aristide’s first government. They demanded an end to “the occupation” and “the invasion” by foreign troops referring to the U.S.-led force that followed Aristide’s ouster and the U.N. peacekeepers who have taken over since June.

U.N. peacekeepers have been criticized for not doing more to control the violence. U.N. officials say they are doing the best they can with 3,000 peacekeepers on the ground and some 750 of them tied up dealing with the aftermath of floods in Gonaives.