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US Concerned Over Acquittal of Former Haitian Paramilitary Leader - 2004-08-17


The United States expressed deep concern Tuesday over the acquittal of a former Haitian paramilitary leader and an ex-police official in an unusual overnight murder trial in Port-au-Prince. The verdict has also drawn criticism from Haitian human rights advocates.

Officials here are questioning the credibility of the rapid-fire Haitian re-trial that ended with the acquittal of former paramilitary leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain and co-defendant Jackson Joanis, a one-time Port-au-Prince police chief.

The two men were cleared of the 1993 killing of Antoine Izmery, a businessman who was a key financial backer of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. They had been tried in absentia and convicted of the crime in 1995

Press reports of the new trial said it began late Monday morning and ended just after dawn Tuesday after jurors had heard only three witnesses, one for the prosecution and two for the defense.

The key defendant, Mr. Chamblain, was a co-leader of the paramilitary Front for Haitian Advancement and Progress, or FRAPH, a group blamed for thousands of killings following Mr. Aristide's ouster by the armed forces in 1991.

The trial outcome drew immediate criticism from Haitian human rights advocates, and in a written statement volunteered to reporters here, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States is deeply concerned by the acquittal.

He also said the United States deeply regrets the haste with which the cases against the two men were brought to trial, saying it resulted in procedural deficiencies that call into question the integrity of the process.

Mr. Ereli said U.S. officials recognize that Haiti's interim government faces a continuing challenge from armed groups, and needs help from the international community in restoring the rule of law.

But he said the United States calls on Haitian authorities to ensure that trials involving charges of gross human rights violations and other such crimes be conducted in a credible manner.

Despite the not-guilty verdict, both men will remain in custody to face other charges stemming from the killing of Aristide supporters after the 1991 coup.

Mr. Chamblain fled Haiti after Mr. Aristide was restored to power by U.S. troops in 1994, and was tried in absentia and given two life sentences for the murder of Mr. Izmery and a number of other Aristide supporters. Under Haitian law, he was entitled to a new trial upon his return to the country.

Earlier this year, he led rebel fighters in the three-week revolt against Mr. Aristide that led to his resignation and exile in late February.

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