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US Tells Haitian Rebels to Disarm and Disband - 2004-03-02


The United States is rejecting claims to power by Haitian rebels and is calling on them to disarm and return home. The statement came after rebel leader Guy Philippe declared himself Haiti's new military chief.

The State Department says the rebel leaders have an "unsavory history" to say the least, and are not wanted in a new government by either the country's mainstream political opposition or by the international community helping restore order after the departure of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said a political transition is under way under terms of the peace plan of the Caribbean grouping CARICOM and that the rebel groups should leave Port-au-Prince and disarm.

"Given the history of the conflict, given the activities that they've undertaken, we do not feel the rebels - the so-called rebel groups, the people we've have been describing as gangs and thugs - have any role in this political process," he said. "They need to lay down their arms and go home."

The spokesman said he did not believe anyone in the government of interim president Boniface Alexandre or the political opposition had invited the rebels into the political process. He also said he was unaware of any invitation to exiled former President Jean-Claude Duvalier to return to Haiti from France.

Mr. Duvalier, the son of notorious Haitian dictator Francois Duvalier, ruled the country for 15 years before being ousted in 1986. He has been quoted by news agencies as saying he wanted to return home and was ready to offer his services to the Haitian people.

Under the CARICOM transition plan, a tripartite council, including a senior United Nations official and members to be chosen by Haitian Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and the political opposition, will select a 79-member Council of Eminent Persons.

That body, representing a broad spectrum of Haitian opinion, is to in turn select a new prime minister and lay the groundwork for new elections to end the country's long-running political stalemate.

Mr. Boucher said violence in Port-au-Prince had subsided with the arrival of U.S. and French troops and that Haitian police are beginning to return to their duties.

He said he expects continued strides as more foreign security forces arrive and move out into the countryside.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega said rebel leader Philippe is in control of nothing but a "rag-tag" band of supporters.

Mr. Noriega said the continued buildup of international forces will make Mr. Philippe "less central" to Haitian affairs and predicted that he will decide to, in his words, "make himself scarce" within the next few days.