Aristide Loyalists Defend City; U.S. to Assess Security

The Pentagon, meanwhile, has said it will send a military team to Haiti to assess the security of the U.S. Embassy in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

Members of the U.S. Southern Command, based in Miami, will travel to Haiti within 48 hours at the request of U.S. Ambassador James Foley, said Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita, according to Reuters.

More than 50 people have died in a two-week-old uprising aimed at ousting Aristide from power. Rebels have taken more than a dozen towns, overcoming police forces stretched thin in the country of 8 million people. Police in Cap-Haitien have reportedly taken refuge in their station, refusing to patrol the streets.

“The police might have been scared but the people got together and organized. … We blocked the streets,” carpenter Pierre Frandley told the Associated Press. “We have machine guns and we will resist.”

Rebels in Gonaives, where the uprising began, said their movement had unified beneath a single commander and renamed itself the National Resistance Front to Liberate Haiti.

“We have a single strategy, to liberate all the cities in all the districts,” said Winter Etienne, a leader of the Gonaives Resistance Front, the AP reported.

He said the rebel forces are united behind Guy Philippe, a former police chief accused of planning a 2001 attack on Haiti’s National Palace that killed ten. Philippe has returned to Haiti from exile and reportedly recently entered the country from the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

Philippe told reporters Wednesday that he has 300 men under arms and vowed to march south within the week against Saint Marc and then to Port-au-Prince to attack the presidential palace, according to the Knight Ridder News Service.

Amnesty International has warned that the newly emerged rebel leaders have “a horrific track record when it comes to human rights.”

The United States has publicly resisted the notion of any groups forcibly removing Aristide from office, but reportedly officials have discussed the possibility of switching leaders in Haiti without undercutting democratic rules.

Aristide has rejected the idea of stepping down before the end of his term in February 2006.

“I am ready to give my life if that is what it takes to defend my country,” he said Thursday. “If wars are expensive, peace can be even more expensive.”

The U.N. Security Council has expressed concern over the escalating violence but left it to regional groups, including the Caribbean Community and the Organization of American States, to find a peaceful political solution.

The Haitian government has sought technical assistance from the OAS for its 5,000-member police force.

The OAS Permanent Council scheduled a special meeting Thursday to discuss the situation in Haiti and consider a resolution supporting the process of democracy there.

Only France, Haiti’s former colonizer, has said it is considering whether there is support for an intervention force.

The crisis in Haiti has been brewing since 2000 when Aristide’s Lavalas Party swept what many considered to be flawed legislative elections.