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25433: (news) Chamberlain: Haiti-New Threat (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By STEVENSON JACOBS
PORT-AU-PRINCE, June 19 (AP) -- Jean Henold Buteau's wife listened
frantically to the brusque voice on the other end of the telephone line:
We've got your husband. Give us $1 million or start planning his funeral.
Then she heard his screams as the kidnappers tortured her bound and
hooded husband, crushing the tips of his fingers and earlobes with pliers
and burning his feet.
Buteau's 20-hour abduction in April was part of a rash of kidnappings
that are adding to the misery in a country already beset by political
violence and instability.
An average of four people are kidnapped each day by politically aligned
street gangs, drug traffickers, crooked police and criminal deportees from
the United States, officials say.
"I was thinking, 'Thank God my mother is dead because she couldn't take
this,'" said Buteau, a physician and leader of a center-left political
party. "They were very, very brutal."
Buteau was released after his family paid a ransom well below the amount
demanded. The figures weren't revealed.
The kidnappings are the latest trend in relentless violence that one
U.N. official called "an urban war" to destabilize Haiti ahead of fall
elections aimed at filling a power vacuum after a revolt toppled President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide last year.
At least 130 people were kidnapped in the capital of Port-au-Prince in
April, a big jump over previous months, U.N. officials have said. Precise
statistics were not available for the previous months, or for May and June.
The victims range from wealthy business owners pulled out of luxury
vehicles on busy streets to working-class Haitians snatched from poor
neighborhoods and held for a few hundred dollars.
Foreigners also are targets.
On Friday, an Italian woman, Gigliola Martino, was kidnapped in the
capital but was later released unharmed, the Italian Foreign Ministry said.
The Italian news agency ANSA reported that Martino, 65, has been living in
Haiti for about 30 years with her husband and two children.
The abduction came days after a Canadian woman was seized from her home
and reportedly held for $300,000. She was freed Wednesday, but it was not
known if a ransom was paid. At least six foreigners have been kidnapped in
"We are facing a kind of terrorism," said Ann-Marie Issa, a member of a
U.S.-backed council of business leaders, academics and others who helped
choose Haiti's interim government and monitor it. "When we go out in the
morning we don't know if we'll come home."
Many wealthier Haitians, who had been relatively insulated from
violence, are leaving the nation or fleeing to the countryside, Issa said.
Several business owners have been forced to close up shop, laying off
workers and perpetuating Haiti's cycle of poverty, she said.
Increased violence prompted the Peace Corps to pull its 16 volunteers
out of Haiti this week, three weeks after the State Department warned
Americans against traveling here and ordered nonessential U.S. personnel to
Haitian officials blame much of the kidnappings on well-armed
pro-Aristide street gangs, but say drug traffickers, corrupt police and an
influx of criminal deportees from the United States are also involved.
"Some of these guys were not even born in Haiti, but their parents were
Haitians," interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue said recently, urging
U.S. authorities to stop sending back criminals of Haitian decent.
A 7,400-strong U.N. peacekeeping force is patrolling volatile slums of
the capital and parts of the countryside but says it can do little to
"The kidnapping (problem) is not the job of peacekeepers," U.N. military
spokesman Lt. Col. Elouafi Boulbars said. "It's the job of the population,
civil society and law enforcement."
Haiti's ill-equipped police force is forming a new anti-kidnapping
squad, but families of victims are often reluctant to involve police, who
are sometimes behind the crimes themselves. Two police officers were
detained this week for alleged kidnappings, police spokeswoman Gessy Coicou
Buteau, a 52-year-old Aristide opponent and leader of the Movement for
National Reconstruction party, says he may have been targeted for his
After being tortured for hours, Buteau said he managed to soften his
captors by talking with them, even giving medical advice to one with a sick
child. He said he persuaded them to lower the ransom demand.
"My main goal was to survive," said Buteau, who still has scars on his
wrists and feet and has started using a bodyguard.
U.N. Civilian Police Commissioner David Beer called the violence "an
urban war" aimed at "destabilizing the government" ahead of elections
scheduled for October and November.
Philippe Armand, a former president of the American Chamber of Commerce
in Haiti, escaped his own kidnapping attempt in March.
"It's total fear," he said. "I wouldn't recommend anyone come to Haiti
right now unless they have to. That's the reality."