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US, France Increase Troop Strength in Haitian Capital - 2004-03-03

U.S. and French troops in Haiti say they are increasing troop strength at friction points in the capital, Port-au-Prince. U.S. Marines turned away rebels who tried to arrest Haiti's prime minister on Tuesday.

Nearly 500 U.S. Marines are now in place in Haiti, and together with about 200 French troops, they plan to increase their presence in Port-au-Prince in coming days. They will be joined by troops from other countries in the region bringing total multinational troops strength in Haiti to several thousand.

U.S. Marine Colonel David Berger says troops from France and the United States are taking up positions at what he calls key friction points in the capital to prevent violence. Colonel Berger says in conversations with his French colleagues, there is broad agreement on the need to bring order to the Haitian capital.

"Absolutely, today you saw more presence, tomorrow you will see more again," he said. "Both their country [France] and ours [the U.S.] are leaning forward to a heavier presence downtown and a couple of other sites to make sure the city gets back on stable ground again."

U.S. Marines guarding the Haitian prime minister's official residence kept a large crowd of rebel supporters of Guy Philippe well away from the residence on Tuesday. The crowd was responding to a call from Mr. Philippe to arrest Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, a key ally of Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide who fled Haiti on Sunday.

Colonel Berger says so far his troops have not come into conflict with Mr. Philippe's forces or any other Haitians, but he says the multinational forces are ready for any violence that might occur.

"Anybody who interferes with us is going be dealt with the same," he said. "Him [Guy Philippe], his people, or any other group. We do not target them, but we will use the same degree of force with his elements or anyone else."

The U.S. Defense Department says total U.S. strength in Haiti is not expected to exceed 2,000. The United Nations has authorized the deployment of a multi-national force for Haiti which is expected to grow to about five thousand troops over the next few weeks.