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Former Haiti Interior Minister Arrested Over Killings

Jocelerme Privert’s arrest marks the first detention of a high-ranking official under Aristide since the former leader fled the country Feb. 29 under threat of a rebel coup.

Privert is accused of orchestrating a massacre of political opponents in the city of St. Marc, 45 miles northwest of the capital city Port-au-Prince, in mid-February during the violence that led to Aristide’s removal.

Officials with the new government did not say how many people were killed or whether arrest warrants have been issued for other ex-officials.

One of those Aristide allies, former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, is in hiding after receiving death threats from rebels, many of whom the government plans to incorporate into the police force, Reuters reported.

Privert’s surrender came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visited the impoverished Caribbean nation to pledge support for the interim government, which has been criticized by some for failing to arrest rebels accused of human rights abuses.

Despite his support for the fledgling government, Powell stressed democracy cannot succeed until politically motivated private armies lay down their weapons.

“Without disarmament, Haiti’s democracy will be at risk,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

Haiti’s interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue told Powell that all of the nation’s political parties agree municipal, legislative and presidential elections should be held in 2005. Under the timeframe, a new president would take office in early 2006, when Aristide’s term would have ended.

The secretary said Latortue assured him Haitian government posts would not go to criminals or human rights violators.

Latortue also announced that he would create a commission modeled after South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deal with past crimes and grievances but gave no further details, the AP reported.

Powell, meanwhile, rejected the calls from the Caribbean community and some U.S. lawmakers that an investigation should be launched into whether Aristide left Haiti under U.S. force as he has claimed. The Bush administration insists he left voluntarily.

“I don’t think any purpose would be served by such an inquiry,” said Powell. “Haiti was on the verge of a total security collapse. … On the last weekend in February, I think we averted a bloodbath.”

About 3,600 U.S., Canadian and Chilean troops entered Haiti after Aristide’s departure to try to restore and maintain stability. The U.S. troops, which comprise the bulk of the force, are expected to depart in June.

Powell said chances are good a U.N.-sponsored peacekeeping force will take over at that point.

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