Haiti slums under siege
10/04/04 "ICH" -- Haiti Information Project (HIP) -
Residents in the slum of Bel Air exchanged gunfire today with police surrounding their neighborhood. Heavily armed units of the Haitian National Police cordoned off the area earlier this morning following an ultimatum issued by residents demanding the release of three of their leaders who were arrested on Saturday. Lavalas militants threatened to take to the streets in a new wave of protests unless Former Deputy Roudy Hérivaux, former Senator Yvon Feuillé, and former Senator Gerald Gilles were freed unconditionally.
Haitian officials announced earlier in the day that they would free Gilles citing a lack of evidence implicating him in the violence of September 30th. Minister of Justice Bernard Gousse continues to maintain that Hérivaux and Feuillé were the "intellectual authors" of the violence.
Bel Air is a slum in the capital of Port au Prince that served as a launching site for recent demonstrations commemorating the thirteenth anniversary of the 1991 military coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The slum has been under siege by police since violence erupted on September 30th after police opened fire on unarmed demonstrators. Witnesses say a unit of the Unite de Securite Presidentielle (U.S.P), a special security detail assigned to Interim President Boniface Alexandre, came under attack after police opened fire on the marchers. Members of the special police unit were seen firing on demonstrators and collecting bodies before masked gunmen returned fire killing three and wounding a fourth who later died in the hospital.
The U.S.-backed government claims that the headless bodies of the policemen were later recovered and that Aristide supporters have launched a campaign emulating beheadings in Iraq called "Operation Baghdad." Representatives of Aristide's Family Lavalas party have denied the allegations. A party spokesman in Bel Air reiterated "it was the police who provoked the violence by firing on demonstrators who were demanding the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide." Aristide was ousted last February 29th amid charges he was kidnapped by U.S. Marines and remains in exile in the Republic of South Africa.
The police action in Bel Air began this morning after a spokewoman for the Haitian National Police (PNH) asked listeners on local Radio Metropole to call the police "if you suspect there are Lavalas chimere in your neighborhood. We will come and get them immediately." There are no reports of casualties on either side as the police continue to control all entrances to the Haitian slum.
Reports from throughout the capital describe heavily armed police units backed up by unidentified paramilitaries taking up positions at major intersections in Port au Prince. Witnesses are also reporting heavy gunfire in Cite Soleil another slum known for its staunch support of Aristide.
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