PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Fearing for their lives, supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide failed to show up at the national Parliament yesterday, making it impossible to enact two laws that are key to the return of the deposed president.
The vote was postponed until today, when chances are slightly better that enough legislators will show up to make a quorum.
Only 40 deputies and seven senators attended yesterday's session. A total of 42 deputies and 11 senators are needed for a quorum in each chamber.
The Parliament had convened to vote on the laws as part of a United Nations-brokered deal to restore Father Aristide, a Roman Catholic priest who was ousted from the presidency two years ago in a military coup. He is the nation's first democratically elected leader.
One law, demanded by the de facto military government, would offer amnesty to officers for crimes committed since the coup. The other law, sought by Father Aristide, would separate the police from the military.
"They say they want Aristide to come back, but they don't come to vote," said Gabriel Sanon, one of the 30 anti-Aristide legislators at yesterday's session. "They should be the first ones here."
About eight pro-Aristide legislators did attend the session. They sat together in the center of the room and shrugged as opponents yelled across the aisle: "Where are your members? Why aren't they here?"
Referring to the critical shortage of gasoline, caused by a U.N. embargo, one legislator said, "Maybe if we get them some gas they will come."
Patrick Norzeus, a pro-Aristide legislator, said his colleagues were too afraid to attend.
Many of them have received death threats and have gone into hiding after the assassination two weeks ago of Justice Minister Guy Malary. Mr. Norzeus said he was living in a foreign embassy.
"I came here because I want to vote on the law to separate the police from the army," he said. "I know that this law is very important if we are ever going to have real democracy in this country."
But, he said, "Because of the concerns about security, many people are afraid to leave their homes to vote, no matter how committed they are to [Father Aristide]."
He and other Aristide supporters expressed reservations about the law granting amnesty to military leaders, particularly Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, head of the de facto government, and Jean Michel Francois, the national police chief who is believed to have orchestrated the 1991 coup.
General Cedras issued a statement yesterday guaranteeing the army would take responsibility for securing the safety of the legislators.
His spokesman criticized Dante Caputo, the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, for inviting world leaders to come here to witness human rights abuses that occur each day.
Mobs of armed gunmen, called "attaches," have been held responsible for more than 100 deaths over the last few months. The gunmen are believed to be supported by the military.
But anti-Aristide legislators laughed when asked about the killings and Mr. Caputo's efforts to bring in monitors including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
"I don't think we need witnesses," said Sen. Julio Larosiliere. "If they want to visit Haiti, they are welcome. But if they want to come here and provide security, I am opposed. The police and military provide security, and they do their job well."