Haitians forcibly returned home


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Nearly 300 Haitians, somber and disconsolate, were forcibly returned to their country yesterday as the United States stepped up its program to clear refugees out of their haven at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Boutwell arrived in midmorning with 289 refugees. Some had been at Guantanamo since last summer after fleeing Haiti's poverty and political terror in makeshift and overloaded rafts. All were returned under protest, saying that they remain in grave danger despite President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's return to power in October.

Two of the men carried by the Boutwell were brought on shore in handcuffs. One was carried down the gangplank by heavily armed U.S. soldiers. He moaned constantly, ignoring a U.S. soldier's admonition: "This is your country. Be a man."

"I don't want to come back to a country like this and die in the streets," the Haitian said, tears streaming down his cheeks.

U.S. officials said the two were manacled when they indicated they would not leave the ship voluntarily. They were released after they calmed down, the officials said.

Also returned yesterday were 147 other men, 70 women, 36 boys, 15 girls and 19 infants under 2 years old. Eyes downcast, they filed off the Boutwell quietly for the most part, carrying plastic bags filled with personal items.

When they stepped onto the dock, each was given a pink slip of paper and ushered to a nearby building for processing by International Red Cross officials. About 200 U.S. and Bangladeshi troops stood guard against any resistance.

bTC Each returnee was given Haitian currency worth about $13.50 and a little bag holding toothpaste and soap.

Yellow school buses brought from the United States then transported the Haitians to a nearby bus terminal, where they were released.

The repatriation is the result of a policy announced last month by the Clinton administration to clear out the estimated 4,000 Haitians who remained at Guantanamo's refugee camp after President Aristide was restored to power.

At one point, more than 30,000 Haitians were in U.S.-operated havens in the Caribbean and Central America, most at Guantanamo.

Some returned after U.S. troops landed here Sept. 19, with many more coming back after President Aristide's restoration a month later.

Those who stayed insisted that, even with President Aristide's return, Haiti remained dangerous, particularly in rural areas where military and civilian thugs still use terror to repress people.

Some U.S. officials, asking not to be named, acknowledged that "some problems remain" in the countryside. U.S. officials said the repatriation, which began Friday with the return of 54 Haitians, will resume tomorrow with the return of about 400 refugees.

Officials hope to empty Guantanamo in about 10 days.

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