PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- With the United States scheduled to hand over responsibility for Haiti's security to the United Nations this week, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide asked the international force yesterday to intensify efforts to disarm those he called "opponents of democracy."
Conditions are now "safe and stable enough to have that transition," Father Aristide said in a morning interview at his residence. But, he added, the situation "has to become safer day after day" in order for democracy and the rule of law to take root, and that will require peacekeepers to move aggressively against the remnants of the paramilitary groups that terrorized Haiti for three years.
Yet even as the president spoke of a safer Haiti, a lawyer who was a prominent supporter of the former military regime and a critic of Father Aristide was killed.
Mireille Durocher Bertin, 38, who had recently been organizing a new political party to take part in elections scheduled for June, was shot to death on the streets of the capital by unidentified gunmen.
White House officials said the Clinton administration was sending a team of FBI officials to help Haitian authorities investigate the assassination of Ms. Bertin, an ardent defender of former military chief Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras.
"We condemn this brutal act of violence," White House press secretary Mike McCurry said in a statement. "Haiti has made real strides toward political and economic reform since the restoration of democracy. We must not allow this act to deter it from the path of progress."
Earlier this month, a former member of Parliament elected on a pro-Aristide slate who was running for a Senate seat was shot to death, and a day later a member of a leading peasant organization that supports the president was killed.
Haiti has in recent weeks been swept by violent crime that has shaken public confidence in both the Haitian and foreign authorities.
Father Aristide said that an upsurge in violence was to be expected, given the conditions that have prevailed since his restoration to power last Oct. 15: "Once you have weapons in the hands of thugs, you have crimes," he said.
Father Aristide's call to the new 6,900-member U.N. peacekeeping force follows several months of efforts by his government to encourage American troops to root out gunmen and weapons caches with greater energy.
On Friday, President Clinton, who ordered the military intervention that made the Haitian president's restoration possible last fall, is scheduled to visit Haiti along with U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to take part in ceremonies marking the formal handover to the United Nations.
"For the short term, or better, immediately, if we arrest some thugs and disarm some others, all of that through legal processes, that is good," Father Aristide argued. "It will send a positive signal and make things safer" for ordinary Haitians who remain worried about their own security and the government's stability.