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Haitian Rebels to Lay Down Arms - 2004-03-03

Haiti's rebel leader says he is laying down his weapons, two days after triumphantly entering Port-au-Prince following the resignation of former-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Twenty-four hours after stridently proclaiming a mandate from Haiti's people to oversee security in the strife-ridden country, a soft-spoken Guy Philippe told reporters his rebels are ready to turn in their weapons.

Mr. Philippe said, "Given that we do not have political ambitions, we have decided, for the good of the Haitian people, to lay down our arms."

The one-time regional police commander said the rebels will no longer patrol the streets, and that he is awaiting instructions from Haiti's interim president, Boniface Alexandre, on where to deposit the weapons. He said his men are at the president's disposal.

Mr. Philippe noted, however, that unrest and violence persist in much of Haiti, and that the country needs foreign assistance to ensure security.

He said, "We hope the international community will respond to the needs of Haiti's people. We hope it will help strengthen the country's institutions and make sure that tyrants do not come back to seize power."

Prior to Jean-Bertrand Artistide's departure, the rebels had overrun more than half the country and were threatening to take Port-au-Prince by force. They entered the capital Monday without firing a single shot.

Mr. Philippe's disarmament announcement followed warnings from U.S. officials that the rebels would not be permitted to wield power.

The United States now has about 1,000 Marines in Haiti. On Wednesday, U.S. troops conducted their first security patrol in the downtown area surrounding the national palace. In other parts of the city, fighting was reported between militant loyalists of Haiti's departed president and local police units.