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Haitian Rebels Seize Town Outside Port-au-Prince - 2004-02-27

Rebels in Haiti trying to overthrow President Jean-Bertrand Aristide have taken control of a town less than 60 kilometers from the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Reports from Mirebalais say rebel forces entered the town, Friday. Their leader, Guy Phillipe, says his men are ready to march on the capital if Mr. Aristide does not step down.

There has been no independent confirmation that Mr. Philippe's forces are outside Port-au-Prince, and observers say it is unlikely the rebels could have assembled a force strong enough to take the city.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin is hosting talks Friday with representatives of the Aristide government. France is urging Mr. Aristide to leave office before his term expires in 2006.

The United States suggested Thursday that it holds the same view. Secretary of State Colin Powell said President Aristide should examine how best to serve the people of Haiti at this time.

Secretary Powell went on to say that the international community was ready to commit police or other forces to help sustain a transitional government or new political arrangement in Haiti.

Mr. Aristide has said repeatedly that he will not step down.

Haiti's escalating conflict has prompted hundreds of its citizens to risk a perilous sea journey to try to reach the United States. The U.S. Coast Guard says it is holding at least 500 migrants who were intercepted recently off the Haitian coast.

In a related development, American Airlines has canceled flights between Haiti and the United States until March 3. The airline says its employees are having difficulty getting to the airport in Port-au-Prince.