U.S. reassures Haitian military in apparent policy shift to weaken resistance

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The United States is trying to weaken Haitian military resistance to the restoration of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide with assurances that the army will not be seriously cut back nor will most senior officers be removed, diplomats and other sources here and in Washington say.

This is a seeming shift from the recent U.S. policy of seeking a reduction in the 7,000-member army, its separation from the police and a restructuring of both institutions.


"We still want to professionalize the military, and we will insist on a separate police," said one U.S. official, "but we now think that if we can convince the military it won't be destroyed and the soldiers won't be thrown out of work they might not follow Cedras and the others."

His remarks referred to Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, the regime's military strongman; Gen. Philippe Biamby, the army chief of staff; and Lt. Col. Michel-Joseph Francois, Port-au-Prince's police commander. Thesemen led the September 1991 coup that drove Father Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president, from office.


Their resignations and departures are among demands made by the United States and the United Nations for ending the economic and political embargo against Haiti.

Haitian military leaders have used fears about possible job losses and other punishments to maintain solidarity. But some officials here said the seeming shift in tone and policy is designed to weaken the hold of senior officers; one diplomat in Haiti called it the "carrot of the carrot and stick" approach.

"One day, [the Americans] are issuing menacing statements about invasions, and the next day the military is told they don't have to worry if they cooperate," the diplomat said.

Another official agreed, but noted that "all bets are off if the military resists" in the event the United States takes military action to restore Father Aristide.

A split seems to be developing among high Haitian officials. OnTuesday, Evans Francois, brother of the police commander, called a radio station here from the Dominican Republic, demanding that General Cedras resign and stating that Colonel Francois "is ready to make concessions to save the nation."

Colonel Francois issued a statement rejecting his brother's position and calling the demand for General Cedras' resignation "offensive and inopportune."

In another development, U.S. officials said the cutoff of U.S. air traffic to Haiti could strand nearly 1,000 Haitians applying for asylum.

U.S. officials hope to fly out 250 more Haitians already accepted for political asylum before commercial air service stops June 24. The air ban was announced last week.


Other options, including charter flights and escapes to U.S. ships, are under consideration, as well as safe houses in Haiti to provide security until asylum-seekers can depart.

Nearly 1,000 Haitians are "in the pipeline," U.S. Embassy spokesman Stanley Schrager said, and dozens more apply every day.