PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Haitian police chief Lt. Col. Michel Francois, the man who initiated the coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is cooperating with the U.S. military police in preparing security for the populist priest's return.
"He understands clearly that President Aristide is going to return," said Col. Michael Sullivan, commander of the 16th Military Police Brigade, who met with Colonel Francois yesterday for a second time. "I believe he has accepted that."
Colonel Francois, held to be the chief architect of terrorism against the population through violence and assassinations, was the key leader of the September 1991 coup that ousted Father Aristide seven months after his election in Haiti's first democratic vote.
Reminded that just a week ago the Clinton administration was referring to the Haitian police chief as a ruthless thug, Colonel Sullivan said: "There is nothing I can do about that. My mission is to coordinate with Colonel Francois."
Colonel Sullivan described his meetings with Haitian officers as "very courteous, very professional and, I think, quite cordial."
He noted that he shared with Colonel Francois a background of being an infantry officer before switching to military policing.
"He seems to be very knowledgeable," Colonel Sullivan said. "My impression is he knows his job. He is certainly in control of his forces, and he certainly knows very well what he is doing.
"Colonel Francois, both times I met him, has been very personable, has seemed to be very relaxed, doesn't seem to be uptight, and is in charge of policing for the U.S.-led intervention force. . . . He was very poised."
In Washington yesterday, officials said Defense Secretary William J. Perry and Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would visit Haiti today to meet with U.S. forces. It was not clear whether they would meet with Haitian military commanders.
Also, President Clinton said yesterday that the United States was sending 300 Haitian refugees home from Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba, where they have been detained for months along with thousands of their compatriots.
He said that the United States. would increase food aid to Haiti beginning Monday and that he was satisfied with the operation in Haiti thus far.
But the difficulty persists about how to keep order in cooperation with the former dictators without having it appear that U.S. troops are in league with them.
Colonel Francois is a particularly shadowy figure, eschewing the spotlight and basing his power on his reputation for ruthlessness and his control of not only the police but the parallel militia force known as the "attaches."
Reportedly the most hard-line of anti-Aristide junta, he was not part of the negotiations with former President Jimmy Carter that ended the threat of outright invasion last weekend. But U.S. officials said he was expected to abide by the terms of the agreement, which called for him and the other coup leaders to step down once an amnesty law is passed or by Oct. 15 at the latest.
Colonel Francois resurfaced Thursday for his first meeting with Colonel Sullivan. He told the U.S. officer that he had 1,000 police officers in Port-au-Prince but did not mention the arms-toting attaches he controls, estimated at between 3,000 and 5,000.
Asked whether he would seek more information about Colonel Francois' control of the attaches, Colonel Sullivan said: "I am not sure, at this point, I need any more."
His task as U.S. police commander has been to arrange for the creation of a secure environment, an efficient flow of traffic and the safe return of Father Aristide, who said this week he would return here in 24 days.
The Oct. 15 deadline for the departure of the military junta here -- Army commander Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, Army chief of staff Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby and Colonel Francois -- means that Colonel Francois will not personally be involved in the actual return of Father Aristide.
In a hourlong session with three Senate leaders yesterday, Father Aristide indicated he is ready to return as soon as the U.S. forces there say it is safe, the senators said.
The return will be a major security challenge. His arrival in this impoverished but excitable society is expected to provoke mass demonstrations of support, possible revenge attacks on his supporters, and even assassination attempts -- his life has been threatened several times.
"When President Aristide returns, that is an event which the Haitian police and military police will probably have to work together," Colonel Sullivan told reporters at a briefing at the U.S. Embassy here, describing the planning for Father Aristide's return as a "step-by-step" process.
In the first step to establish a secure environment here, military police patrols in armored Humvees mounted with machine guns began patrolling the major highways of the capital yesterday.
They were ordered to keep traffic moving so that U.S. convoys could get to their destinations, and to prevent violence of the sort that left one demonstrator dead and several injured earlier this week when Haitian police and soldiers attacked crowds celebrating the arrival of U.S. troops.
Colonel Sullivan said he told Colonel Francois that such "abuse" was "unacceptable." Colonel Francois agreed, but countered that his officers were responding to threatening behavior from the crowd.
"He agreed the situation that occurred was an unfortunate incident, and he would do his best to ensure that did not happen again," said Colonel Sullivan.
"If my military police are going to be working in coordination with his police, that behavior cannot continue."