US marines begin patrolling Haiti's capital

The US sent combat-ready Marines into Haiti’s capital and messages to rebel leader Guy Philippe, prompting him to announce his men would lay down their arms, signalling an end to a rebellion that claimed at least 130 lives.

The US sent combat-ready Marines into Haiti’s capital and messages to rebel leader Guy Philippe, prompting him to announce his men would lay down their arms, signalling an end to a rebellion that claimed at least 130 lives.

Caribbean leaders, meanwhile, called for an independent international inquiry into the departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide – who claims he was abducted at gunpoint by US Marines – and signalled their anger by saying they would not provide troops for the UN peacekeeping force in Haiti.

Mr Aristide’s apparent forced departure set a “very dangerous precedent” for all democratically elected leaders in the world, Prime Minister PJ Patterson of Jamaica said, speaking for the 15-nation Caribbean Community.

In Port-au-Prince, US Marines warily fanned out from the presidential palace in their first reconnaissance in force since the vanguard of a UN-approved peacekeeping force began arriving on Sunday.

Amid the occasional pop of a distant gunshot, a convoy of 10 machine-gun-mounted Humvees and armoured vehicles rumbled onto rubbish-strewn streets and patrolled an area stretching 30 blocks.

As troops pushed burned-out cars from road ways, riflemen watched the street from behind the sights of their weapons.

Residents peered warily from balconies, and some showed open hostility.

It was a far cry from the tumultuous welcome Haitians accorded the 20,000 US troops who invaded in 1994 to chase out brutal military dictators and restore the ousted Mr Aristide.

Colonel Mark Gurganis, 49, commander of the US troops in Haiti, told reporters he and some other US officials asked Philippe during a meeting yesterday “to honour what he said he was going to do and lay down his arms”.

The day after he had declared himself Haiti’s “military chief”, Philippe was also seen driving into the residence of US Ambassador James Foley.

Then he called a news conference to announce: “Now that there are foreign troops promising to protect the Haitian people … we will lay down our arms.”

His fighters looked glum as Philippe said: “This may be the last statement that we’re giving here in the name of the Liberation Front.”

The rebels then abandoned the former army headquarters that they had occupied after their arrival on Monday, disappearing with their guns.

Interim President Boniface Alexandre, making his first address to the nation since the former Supreme Court chief justice was sworn in on Sunday, said: “I did not ask for this position but I gladly accept it because it is my understanding that it is every Haitian’s responsibility to search for solutions to the current crisis.”

He called the rebels “patriotic men of honour” and asked them to disarm and help rebuild Haiti. He also asked Aristide loyalists to disarm, assuring them that Mr Aristide’s Lavalas party will “play a role in the democratic process that we are starting”.

Earlier yesterday, rebels and militant Aristide loyalists fought an hour-long gun battle in La Saline slum near the looted seaport. It erupted when the rebels tried to disarm the militants. Three people were killed, Radio Metropole reported.

Mr Aristide remained in the Central African Republic where he arrived on Sunday, where officials said they still were hunting for a third country to take him in permanently.

South Africa repeated that it’s not opposed to taking in Mr Aristide, though it, like others, was thought to be troubled by the political and diplomatic problems that could follow Aristide.

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