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Insurgency Continues in Haiti; Rebels Overtake Cap-Haitian - 2004-02-22


Rebels in Haiti took control of the country's largest city in the north Sunday. Government forces have now been ousted from all major municipalities in the northern part of the country, along with several in Haiti's central region.

Rebels bent on wrestling control of Haiti from President Jean-Bertrand Aristide overran Cap Haitien, taking the airport before barreling into the city itself. At least three people were killed in gun battles near the airport.

Haiti has no army, and Cap Haitien's small police force did not resist the rebel's advance into the city center. Widespread looting was subsequently reported, along with some anti-Aristide celebrations.

The rebels, who describe themselves as disillusioned one-time backers of President Aristide, have pledged to continue the insurgency until they take Port-Au-Prince.

In the capital, Mr. Aristide said he was sending police reinforcements to Cap Haitien. He did not elaborate.

The fall of Cap Haitien came one day before a deadline for Haiti's civilian opposition groups to accept or reject a U.S.-backed international plan designed to end years of political strife in Haiti. Saturday, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide accepted the proposal after meeting with envoys from the United States, Canada, the Organization of American States and Caricom. The plan calls for establishing a government of unity and reconciliation that would serve through the end of Mr. Aristide's term in office in 2006.

But Haiti's political opposition continues to insist it will only participate in the initiative if Mr. Aristide leaves office.

Misha Gaillard, who belongs to an opposition umbrella group, said his position has not changed since Saturday, when a four-hour negotiating session between the opposition and the international envoys failed to yield an agreement.

Mr. Gaillard, who spoke with VOA by telephone, said "fundamentally, nothing has changed. The plan is 90 percent acceptable, but there are problems: it does not address the departure of President Aristide or how to deal with rebels in Haiti."

The opposition leader added that reconciliation in Haiti will only be possible if Mr. Aristide leaves office.

But that stipulation is not palatable to the authors of the proposal. Speaking with reporters after Saturday's fruitless meeting with Haiti's opposition, Canadian envoy Denis Caderre said the plan must be accepted in its entirety. "We are not asking for the resignation of Aristide. What we have said is that if there is to be the full participation of international aid, you have to link it to the acceptance of the plan," he said.

Opposition leaders have promised to give a final verdict on the international proposal Monday.