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Haiti Rebel Leader Enters Port-au-Prince - 2004-03-01

A Haitian rebel leader whose forces overran more than half of the country entered Port-au-Prince Monday and promptly made contact with the country's opposition political umbrella group.

Guy Philippe received a hero's welcome from thousands of jubilant Haitians as the rebel leader and several dozen armed fighters triumphantly drove through Port-au-Prince. The man who days ago had pledged to take the capital by force to oust former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide drove past the national palace without having to fired a single shot.

A boisterous crowd chanted for Mr. Aristide to be put on trial for alleged abuses of power as Mr. Philippe stopped briefly at a police station before going to a hotel to meet with opposition leaders.

Mr. Philippe's arrival in Port-au-Prince comes as the United States and France are dispatching troops to Haiti to restore order after weeks of political strife and violence. But with Haitian Supreme Court Justice Boniface Alexandre installed as president after Mr. Aristide's resignation, it is not clear what, if any, role the international community envisions for Guy Philippe in Haiti's future.

His supporters, however, already have some ideas in mind, including one man who identified himself as a former member of Haiti's army, that was disbanded 10 years ago. He said the armed forces must be restored, with Guy Philippe in command.

The man said, "Guy Philippe set me free, and it is because of him that I can come to the national palace today. The army is back, and we want Guy Philippe to stay."

But talk of reviving Haiti's army, which carried out multiple coups in country's history and was accused of horrific human rights abuses, caused alarm for others.

One woman stood back from the public adulation of the rebel leader. She said Guy Philippe has nothing worthwhile to contribute to Haiti now that Jean-Bertrand Aristide is gone.

She said, "What am I expecting of Guy Philippe? Nothing at all. We do not believe in using weapons for political power. We have to divorce ourselves from this practice."

For weeks, the rebel leader pledged to lay down his arms if Jean-Bertrand Aristide left office. A day after Mr. Aristide's departure, Guy Philippe and his men are carrying guns at their sides in Port-au-Prince, even as international troops arrive in the city.