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24849: (news) Chamberlain: Haiti-US Guns
Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN
PORT-AU-PRINCE, April 21 (AP) -- The United States has quietly given
thousands of guns to the Haitian National Police and is moving to approve
the sale of thousands more despite a 14-year arms embargo and allegations
the force is corrupt, brutal and responsible for unjustified killings,
U.S., U.N. and Haitian officials said this week.
The officials said police are outgunned by gangsters and must be better
The United States gave 2,600 used firearms to the Haitian National
Police last year to help re-equip and professionalize the force, according
to State Department and U.N. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The State Department is preparing to notify Congress that it wants to
permit U.S. companies to sell the Haitian police $1.9 million worth of
equipment, including 3,000 .38-caliber pistols, several hundred rifles and
shotguns, and non-lethal equipment for crowd control, the spokesman said.
Haitians had mixed reactions.
"The solution isn't lots of guns," said Nadine Alexis, a 24-year-old
student. "If they have lots of arms, they'll kill more people."
But Jules Andre, a 42-year-old vendor of lottery tickets, said the
police "need more guns."
"Whenever you call the police to ask for backup, the cops say they can't
intervene because they don't have enough guns to face the bandits," Andre
Such sales come under regulations imposed after the 1991 overthrow of
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide that bar weapons sales except "in a case
of exceptional or undue hardship, or when it is otherwise in the interest
of the United States government."
Aristide pleaded to have the embargo lifted after 20,000 U.S. troops
returned him to power in 1994. But U.S. officials cited the police force's
links to cocaine trafficking and extrajudicial killings of government
opponents -- charges still made today by human rights groups despite a
change of government.
Aristide was ousted again in February 2004 in a rebellion in which
scores of police officers were killed and hundreds deserted.
U.S. and U.N. officials said that since the installation of an interim
government, they have been working to bolster a revamped police force
outgunned by politically aligned gangs that attack police and U.N.
peacekeepers with high-powered weapons.
"We've heard chronic complaints and calls for the receipt of this
equipment that will enable them to properly and effectively carry out their
duties," said Dan Moskaluk, a spokesman for the U.N. civilian police force.
Haitian Justice Minister Bernard Gousse said in October that the United
States had lifted its arms embargo, but U.S. officials said only that
Haitian requests would be considered on their merits. Gousse did not return
telephone calls seeking comment this week.
U.S. and U.N. officials said the new weapons would be tightly controlled
and given only to officers vetted for human rights violations.
The last is a nod to human rights activists, who complain that former
soldiers from the army that twice ousted Aristide and is accused of
killing, maiming, raping and otherwise abusing thousands of Haitians now
are being allowed to join the police force.
Police officials also have been linked to Colombian cocaine smuggling,
since Haiti in recent years has become a major transit point for drugs
destined for the United States.
Human rights groups and opponents of the interim government have accused
the police of fatally shooting dozens of unarmed civilians in nighttime
raids on pro-Aristide slums, and of killing at least three unarmed
protesters in recent months.
Haitian police spokeswoman Gessy Coicou said investigations remained
open, but "the police didn't shoot demonstrators. They dispersed the
demonstrations with tear gas."
Journalists saw police fire into peaceful protesters, leaving at least
Coicou referred questions about police firearms to Haitian justice and
finance officials, who did not return telephone calls, and to the U.S.
Embassy, which declined to comment.
U.S. Ambassador James Foley hinted earlier this month that arms might be
"I salute the dedication, the courage of the police for facing criminal
organizations that are better armed," Foley said. "They're courageous and
they're called on to continue on until we're able to better help them. That