(IPS) WASHINGTON -- With uncertainty still clouding the political situation in Haiti, two major human rights groups Wednesday called for U.S. and other foreign troops to immediately stop violence by rebel forces and arrest alleged human rights violators among them.
Amnesty International (AI) said it was ''extremely concerned that international forces who have been in Haiti since Sunday have permitted rebel forces led by perpetrators of past abuses to effectively take control of part of the capital."
It also expressed fears the rebels are enlisting dozens of former military and paramilitary associates who, until reportedly escaping from the National Penitentiary in the capital Port-au-Prince on Sunday, were imprisoned on human rights-related convictions.
At the same time, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for the Multinational Interim Force (MIF) to assert control over the capital and the rest of the country to stop reprisal killings against suspected supporters of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
''It is irresponsible for the international community to abdicate effective power over Haiti to armed insurgents whose leaders include men responsible for some of Haiti's worst abuses," said Joanne Mariner, deputy director of HRW's Americas division. ''To do so would be a recipe for continued violence," she added in a statement.
Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. Congress voiced similar fears during a rancorous hearing before the House of Representatives western hemisphere subcommittee Wednesday afternoon.
''How can we send in people and just allow the killings to go on''? asked New Jersey Representative Donald Payne, a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) some of whose members have charged that the Bush administration's role in persuading Aristide to flee the country Sunday made Washington effectively complicit in a coup d'etat against an elected president.
''Haiti has been taken over by drug dealers, thugs, assassins and terrorists," said Massachusetts Democratic Rep William Delahunt. ''People who represent the very worst in Haiti are taking over," he said, adding, ''this administration did nothing to save democracy in Haiti. It's obscene."
Those developments came amid continuing confusion in Haiti, where some 500 U.S. Marines were reportedly given new rules of engagement that permit them to use lethal force if necessary to protect Haitians from street violence.
The Marines, who have been joined by French and Canadian troops with Chilean special forces reportedly on the way, were said to have begun patrolling streets near the presidential palace Tuesday, but HRW complained the MIF has ''shown little indication of challenging the rebels' control over the city."
The force was established by the United Nations Security Council on Sunday, just hours after Aristide was taken by plane from Port-au-Prince. It is authorised to stay in Haiti a maximum three months before it is replaced by a UN peacekeeping body.
More than 130 people have reportedly been killed -- many of them in pro-Aristide strongholds -- since the president's departure.
U.S. diplomats are said to have intensified efforts to negotiate the creation of a new government under interim president, Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre, who has not been seen in public since his swearing-in Sunday.
In testimony Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega said Washington considered the Aristide-appointed prime minister, Yvon Neptune, the head of the interim government.
Rebel leader Guy Philippe, who declared himself the chief of a reconstituted military Tuesday, also reportedly visited the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday, although no details about the meeting have emerged. Later in the day Philippe announced his forces would disarm voluntarily, although he did not say when.
On Tuesday, Philippe, a former police chief of Delmas and Cap-Haitien who fled to the neighbouring Dominican Republic after an aborted coup d'etat against Aristide in 2000, reportedly ordered that Neptune be arrested, but U.S. security officials turned back rebels who were sent to carry out the order.
Philippe is a figure of major concern to rights groups both because of his reputation for brutality, earned from his stint in the police after Aristide dismantled the army in 1995, and allegations of drug-trafficking.
Reportedly trained by U.S. Special Forces in Ecuador after the military ousted Aristide during his first term in 1991, Philippe is also believed to have been behind a series of raids from the Dominican Republic by ex-soldiers against Haitian government and police targets over the last two years.
During his Dominican exile, he also worked with Louis Jodel Chamblain, a former army officer who served as the second-in-command of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), a paramilitary death squad responsible for killing hundreds of suspected Aristide supporters from FRAPH's creation in 1993 until the former Catholic priest was restored as president by 20,000 U.S. troops in 1994.
Chamblain was sentenced ''in absentia'' to life in prison for the 1993 murder of businessman and pro-Aristide activist Antoine Izmery, as well as for involvement in a notorious 1994 slaughter in Gonaives.
He was also linked to the 1993 assassination of Justice Minister Guy Malary by a contemporaneous CIA intelligence memorandum obtained by the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights. Chamblain fled to the Dominican Republic in 1994.
Another FRAPH veteran, Jean Pierre Baptiste, known as Jean Tatoune, has also surfaced as an adviser to Philippe. He was convicted of murder for the 1994 Gonaives massacre but was freed by an anti-Aristide gang last year.
Until Tuesday, Chamblain appeared repeatedly with Philippe in public, but his whereabouts are now unknown. U.S. officials have insisted publicly they will not deal with known human rights abusers and that the rebels will not be permitted to play a role in any future government.
The unarmed opposition coalition in Haiti, the Democratic Convergence, has also insisted that it has no links to Philippe and his advisers, but several of its key leaders have reportedly held meetings with Philippe in recent days, and some prominent business members have joined in his call to re-establish Haiti's military.
Amnesty said Thursday that the willingness of the civic opposition Democratic Convergence to negotiate with convicted human rights offenders over their future in Haiti contributed to its alarm and would have a ''devastating effect'' on any hopes the rule of law could be restored.
''The trials in which these individuals were convicted gave hope to Haitians that for the first time in the country's history, the cycle of political violence might well and truly be broken. That hope has now been betrayed," AI added in a statement.
Members of the Convergence -- an eclectic collection of business and student groups, labour and peasant unions and former Aristide supporters -- have received substantial financial support from Washington under the Bush administration, less from government agencies directly than from the quasi-governmental International Republican Institute (IRI).
The IRI's point person for Haiti is Stanley Lucas who, according to Haiti expert Robert Maguire, has long enjoyed close ties with the Haitian military.
Moreover, according to Maguire, who teaches at Trinity College here, all IRI-sponsored meetings with the Haitian opposition have taken place outside Haiti, either in the Dominican Republic, home to both Philippe and Chamblain, or in the United States.
The Convergence also took an inflexible line vis-a-vis negotiation with Aristide after he became president in disputed elections in 2000. Despite personal appeals last week by Secretary of State Colin Powell that it participate with Aristide in talks to form a new government, the opposition stood firm in its demand that the president resign.
As the rebels extended their control in the countryside and began moving on Port-au-Prince, hundreds of Haitians moved to flee the country by boat. At that point, Powell changed his position and called for Aristide to step down.
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