GONAIVES, Haiti (AP) – Ex-soldiers took Haiti’s rebellion to the key central city of Hinche, torching the po-lice station and freeing prisoners as President Jean-Bertrand Aristide ap-pealed for international help to end an 11-day-old uprising.
Rebels now control most roads lead-ing in and out of the Artibonite, Haiti’s breadbasket and home to almost 1 million people, and have cut off northern Haiti by chasing police from a dozen towns.
"Blood has flowed in Hinche,’’ Aris-tide told reporters recently, saying he had asked for technical assistance from the Organization of American States. "It may be that the police cannot cope with this kind of attack.’’
France, Haiti’s former colonizer, is considering sending peacekeepers to restore calm and already has means available in nearby Caribbean territories to help, the French foreign minister said.
Fearing an exodus, U.N. High Com-missioner for Refugees Ron Redmond said the agency was meeting with U.S. and Caribbean officials to discuss how to cope. UNHCR officials also have met with Cuban authorities, he said.
"We would certainly hope that these governments would receive fleeing asylum seekers,’’ with UNHCR ready to help, Redmond said.
Witnesses said about 50 rebels de-scended on the station in Hinche and killed three officers before police fled the city of 50,000, about 70 miles north-east of Port-au-Prince.
They said the rebels were led by Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a former soldier who once headed the feared paramilitary group FRAPH – the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti – which killed and maimed hundreds of Aristide supporters under military dictatorship between 1991 and 1994.
Aristide, a slum priest who preached revolution to Haiti’s poor, swept 1990 elections to become the country’s first freely elected leader. He was ousted by a coup in 1991, restored when the Uni-ted States sent 20,000 troops to Haiti 1994, and disbanded the army in 1995.
In its place is a 5,000-member police force trained to deal with riots. In outlying posts, police are outnumbered and outgunned by the rebels.
Only about 100 rebels are believed to be in Gonaives, where the rebellion to oust Aristide exploded Feb. 5. Yet rebels repelled a police attack to retake the city last week in fighting that killed 30 people, mostly officers, according to the Haitian Red Cross.
At least 56 people have died as the revolt has spread from Gonaives, about 70 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince.
Reprisal killings and the torching of homes continue in rebel-held and police-held areas. Aristide loyalists reportedly killed two anti-government supporters recently in the Caribbean Sea port town St. Marc.
Aristide refused to discuss strategies for halting the revolt or say whether he was asking for military assistance.
"A group of terrorists are breaking democratic order,’’ Aristide said. "We have the responsibility to use the law and dialogue to take a peaceful way’’ to quell the uprising that has blocked food, fuel and medical shipments to northern Haiti.
In Paris, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said officials were meeting to determine what they could do im-mediately for the former colony, where about 2,000 French citizens live.
"What can France do specifically? First, we want to reflect on what could be done urgently. Can we deploy a peacekeeping force?’’ told France-In-ter radio.
"We are in contact with all of our partners in the framework of the Uni-ted Nations, which has sent a humanitarian mission to Haiti to see what is possible.’’
He noted that France has territories in the region, such as Antilles and Gui-ana, with expertise in education, health and humanitarian aid. The French Defense Ministry said it has 4,000 military personnel at two bases in the area, in Martinique and Guadeloupe.
Asked whether forces could be de-ployed quickly, De Villepin replied: "Absolutely. Many friendly countries are mobilized.’’
Still, he said any international mo-bilization "supposes a spurt of effort by Haiti’s political class, that President Aristide commits himself to a respect of civil peace. That’s his first responsibility.’’
Discontent has grown among Haiti’s 8 million people since Aristide’s party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000 and international donors froze millions of dollars.
Aristide is accused of using police and armed militants to stifle dissent and allowing corrupt officials to enrich themselves while Haitians suffer deepening poverty.
Opposition politicians refuse to participate in new elections unless Aris-tide steps down, and rebels say they will lay down their weapons only when he is ousted.
On Monday, rebels escorted an international Red Cross aid convoy in-to Gonaives, carrying 1.6 tons of supplies including blood and surgical equip-ment. It was the first supply delivery since rebels took charge of the city.
A surgeon and a physician arrived to treat some 40 people wounded in the fighting. Hospital administrator Gab-riel Honorat said the wounded are be-ing cared for in their homes following a battle at the hospital in which police killed three bystanders.
"We have no medicine. It is urgent,’’ he said.
Doctors Without Borders said it was sending 16 tons of medical equipment to Haiti, mainly surgical and dressing kits.
In addition, the aid agency CARE began distributing vegetable oil and cereals to about 50,000 needy people in Gonaives, where prices of food and fuel have shot up.
PM Wants Commission To Probe Hit Squad Allegations
GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) – Guyana’s prime minister has called for an independent commission to investigate allegations that the government ran a hit squad blamed for more than 40 killings in the past year.
Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, the No. 2 official in the government after the president, made the proposal re-cently in an interview on an independent television station.
Hinds said that if authorities approve a commission, it should offer pardons and amnesty for those who provide evidence to investigators.
However, the government has held off on an independent inquiry until sources come forward with official testimony and evidence. So far, no one has. In the meantime, the investigation is being done by the police force under the home affairs ministry.
Gajraj and President Bharrat Jagdeo have denied any government involvement in such a squad.
Threat Of Sanctions Causes Concern Among Manufacturers
PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) – Trinidad’s exporters urged the government to resolve a decade-old fishing dispute with Barbados, saying trade sanctions threatened by the Barbadian government could harm local businesses.
Earlier this week Barbadian Prime Minister Owen Arthur said his government would impose trade sanctions on Trinidadian goods until an agreement was reached on fishing near Trinidad’s sister island of Tobago.
Without details of the threatened sanctions, Trinidad businesses were fear-ing the worst, including high import tariffs or even a ban on Trinidadian goods, said Anthony Hosang, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Manufac-turers Association.
"It’s a wait and see here in Trinidad. Everyone is still apprehensive,’’ Hosang said recently. Currently the two countries exchange goods without tariffs.
Trinidad and Barbados have been wrangling for a decade over fishing rights to the waters off Tobago, where flying fish are abundant.
A maritime border has yet to be established between the two Caribbean islands, which are about 300 kilometers (188 miles) apart.
Economy Levels Under Austerity Measures, IMF Says
ROSEAU, Dominica (AP) – Domi-nica’s economy is showing signs of recovery from several years of decline, but the government still must reduce wage spending and clear the national debt, an official from the International Monetary Fund said.
"The economic decline of the country has been arrested, and there is evidence of an incipient growth,’’ said IMF regional director Alejandro San-tos, who headed a review mission to Dominica this week.
The rebound, concentrated in manufacturing and tourism, comes after the government last year imposed harsh austerity measures that included cutting the budget 15 percent and introducing new taxes.
But growth was still being hampered by the tiny Caribbean country’s "unsustainable’’ national debt of East-ern Caribbean $775 million (US$287 million) – or 116 percent of gross do-mestic product, Santos said.
The government is working with creditors to restructure debt, and "pro-gress has been made,’’ he said without giving further details.
The government should also bring down its EC$12 million (US$4.5 million) yearly wage bill by 10 percent over the next two years, Santos said.
ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada (AP) – The government has presented a 2004 budget proposal, saying it wanted to increase spending to boost small businesses while pledging to add no new taxes.
The Eastern Caribbean $595.9 million (US$223.2 million) budget, higher than last year’s by EC$66.7 million (US25 million), includes provisions for low-interest loans to farmers and tax incentives for small businesses, Fin-ance Minister Anthony Boatswain told Parliament recently.
Revenues were projected to surpass the budget by EC$29.9 million (US $11.2 million), due in part to economic growth and a planned increase in license fees for hotels and eateries on March 1, he said.
In 2006, the government plans to reintroduce value-added tax, Boatswain said.
Boatswain said the economy was rebounding, with 3.4 percent growth recorded in 2003 – "almost 1 percent higher than the average for the Eastern Caribbean.’’ In 2001, the economy contracted 3.4 percent and recovered slightly in 2002.
This year, Boatswain projected a 3.5 percent growth.