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Haiti Rebels Seize Town; Aristide Appeals for Help - 2004-02-17

Armed rebels have seized the central Haitian town of Hinche, as Haiti's President Jean-Bertrand Aristide appeals for international help in putting down a growing uprising.

Witnesses in Hinche say the rebels attacked the town's police station Monday, killing three people including the police chief. Police then fled to a nearby town while rebels took control of the main north-south road.

Witnesses say the attack was led by Louis Jodel Champlain, who headed a feared paramilitary group, the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, that is blamed for hundreds of deaths during military rule in Haiti from 1991 to 1994.

He was aided by former police chief Guy Philippe, who fled Haiti two years ago after being implicated in a coup attempt.

President Aristide told reporters late Monday that he has asked the Organization of American States for technical assistance to stop the rebellion. He referred to the armed rebels as "terrorists."

At least 55 people have been killed in the escalating violence that has swept the Caribbean nation for nearly two weeks.

The United Nations refugee agency says it has asked neighboring countries to accept Haitian refugees if an exodus begins.

Rebels, controlling more than a dozen towns in the northern and central part of the country, are demanding Mr. Aristide's ouster. The president insists he will serve out his term, which ends in February 2006. Haiti has been mired in turmoil since disputed legislative elections in 2000.

Meanwhile, armed gangs holding the northern port city of Gonaives have allowed the Red Cross to deliver relief supplies. The United Nations also says it will deliver food to northern Haiti by ship to reach areas cut off by the rebels.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.