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Rebel Chief in Haiti to Disarm His Forces

BY Admin  March 3, 2004 at 4:40 PM EDT

Philippe said at a news conference, ”Now that there are foreign troops promising to protect the Haitian people … and they have given the guarantee to protect the Haitian people … we will lay down our arms.”

The announcement came a day after Philippe declared himself chief of the military and police in defiance of the United States, which has been calling on rebel groups to disband and disarm.

U.S. Marines, meanwhile, who were initially sent to protect American citizens in Haiti during a three-week bloody uprising that led to the ouster of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, have expanded their mission to include protecting Haitian civilians from retaliatory attacks by rebels, military officials said.

In one instance, the Marines stopped rebels from pursuing officials who served under Aristide as they fled to the airport in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Wednesday.

Marines were stationed outside the main terminal when rebels arrived, preventing them from reaching dozens of officials from Aristide’s Lavalas Family Party who had just gone inside, witnesses said.

When rebels announced Tuesday they would arrest Haitian Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, an Aristide ally, U.S. security forces surrounded his office and the rebels backed off, apparently deterred by the show of force, according to Reuters.

Because of the threat, U.S. Marine Col. Dave Berger told a news conference that the Marines would increase their presence throughout Haiti.

The United States is planning to deploy between 1,500 and 2,000 Marines to Haiti as part of peacekeeping operations approved by the United Nations, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Monday. Some 400 U.S. Marines are there already.

Chile said it was sending 120 special forces to Haiti on Wednesday, the first of about 300. France said it would have 420 soldiers and police in place by the end of the week, according to the Associated Press.

Three weeks of violent uprisings in Haiti brought a premature end to Aristide’s term as president. He fled the impoverished country Sunday and has been staying in the presidential palace in the Central African Republic ever since.

Aristide’s critics accuse him of breaking promises to help the poor and of masterminding attacks on opponents by armed gangs — charges he denied.

Political unrest had been brewing since 2000 when the Lavalas Party swept contested legislative elections. The uprising turned violent Feb. 5 when armed rebel groups began taking over towns in the North and demanding Aristide’s removal. An estimated 100 people died during the clashes between the rebels and pro-Aristide militants and about 30 more after Aristide’s departure.