Haiti resists U.S. push to double size of police force


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- In the latest dispute over security in Haiti, the government is resisting plans by the Clinton administration to double the size of the country's new police force and to send the additional trainees to the United States for part of their training.

The training of the new force began under U.S. tutelage four months ago, and the first contingent is scheduled to begin taking over from the interim police force in June.

But President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and several of his advisers oppose Washington's efforts to further strengthen an institution that helped overthrow him in 1991.

Since U.S. troops restored Mr. Aristide to power last fall, the Haitian government and the Clinton administration have repeatedly disagreed over the size, composition and duties of public security forces here.

Haitian resentment and opposition have grown as pressure has increased from the United States, which controls the finances for the training program.

"The United States is trying to push this thing through, but there are some real problems," said one Aristide adviser, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity.

U.S. officials have been pushing for an expansion of the police force in part to make up for the security vacuum left by the dissolution of the Haitian army after Mr. Aristide returned on Oct. 15.

Since then, police duties have been performed by the Interim Public Security Force, which is mostly composed of officers who have been recruited from the old national police force and which has been criticized as inept in combating rising crime.

While the Clinton administration is seeking a police force of 6,000 officers, a few U.S. officials have mentioned numbers as high as 8,000, a figure that has only fed Haitian suspicions of Washington's intentions.

Haitian government officials said they regarded the larger number as symbolically unfortunate because it is too close in size to the Haitian armed forces that overthrew Mr. Aristide.

If the police force is not expanded, Haiti would be left with about 4,000 police officers by the end of February 1996.

That is when nearly 7,000 U.N. peacekeeping forces, who took over on March 31 after the pullout of 20,000 U.S. troops, are scheduled to depart and transfer law enforcement to the Haitian authorities.

U.S. and other foreign public security experts here argue that a police force of 4,000 is inadequate for a country of about 7 million people.

Even more difficult is the question of whether the trainees should receive instruction in the United States.

Haitian officials, journalists and political figures have expressed suspicions that such a move is not only unnecessary but is intended to give the United States excessive control over the police force.

Because the police training academy here will soon be operating at its full capacity, about 1,500 cadets, U.S. officials have suggested that additional recruits be trained at least partly outside Haiti.

After examining various sites in the South, they settled on Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and recommended that each training class spend eight weeks of their four months of training there.

"We have scoured the island from one end to the other, but there is no suitable site in Haiti for training if you want to shoot for a doubling in size," said Cary Hoover, the project coordinator for the Justice Department unit that is handling the training program.

Numerous members of the former Haitian national police, the brutal and corrupt force that was disbanded after U.S. troops landed here last September, received training in the United States.

"You could take a sightseeing tour of the barracks where the most outrageous tortures took place, and see the plaques for training programs in the United States that these guys had taken part in," one adviser to Mr. Aristide said.

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