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Interim PM Arrives in Haiti to Form New Government - 2004-03-11

Haiti's new interim prime minister arrived in Port-au-Prince late Wednesday to form a new government which is expected to lead the country until elections can be held. Security concerns remain a top priority in Haiti as U.S. Marines came under attack from gunmen in the center of the city.

Gerard Latortue returned to Port-au-Prince from Florida where he has been working as a business consultant and also as a popular host on an issues-oriented Haitian radio talk show.

Mr. Latortue, a former political refugee and foreign minister has served in a variety of academic posts and senior positions in the United Nations.

He was selected to lead a new Haitian government by a so-called council of wise individuals formed after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the country on February 29. He and interim President Boniface Alexandre will govern Haiti until elections can be held.

Upon arriving in Port-au-Prince, Mr. Latortue called for national reconciliation in Haiti. He also says improving security will be a top priority of his administration.

"The top priority will be to put in effect a security program. I would like to see the foreign troops here cooperate with the national police to help us," he said. "To help us disarm all those who have illegal arms in their hands. We hope the Secretary General of the U-N, and the U-S government, the French government will understand that they have to participate actively in that process."

Mr. Latortue says he plans to reach out to members of Mr. Aristide's Lavalas Party and he called for all Haitians to work together to get through the current crisis. He also says he will consider whether to form a commission to look at whether or not to all Haiti's army to be re-established, a key demand of rebels who threatened to oust Mr. Aristide last month.

U.S. Marines came under heavy sustained fire Tuesday evening near the Prime Minister's official office in an upscale area of the capital. Marines describe the incident as an ambush and say they killed two assailants who took part in the attack. U.S. Marine Colonel Mark Garganus says the security situation in Port-au-Prince is a test for his troops.

"It is dangerous. Just the environment is dangerous in a lot of ways. Urban environments are by far the most difficult terrain to work in. It is three-dimensional," he said. "You are looking in front of you, you are looking left, you are looking right, you have to look behind you, above you, and in some cases, below you. But the good news about that is that it causes them to be very aware of what is around them."

Colonel Garganus says it is too early to tell if Tuesday night's seemingly organized attack against the Marines is part of a pattern of organized resistance to the multi-national force in Haiti. He says U-S marines, and their allies in Haiti are ready for any eventuality and will press ahead with plans to work with Haiti's national police to disarm groups and individuals behind the violence.