Powell Visit Haiti, Says U.N. Action Averted 'Bloodbath'
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 6, 2004 Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Haitian leaders and received briefings on the U.S. efforts in the country during an April 5 visit to the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
The secretary said United Nations actions on Feb. 29 that got former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to resign "averted a bloodbath" in the country. Powell stressed that all groups in Haiti need to turn in illegal weapons. He said groups keeping those weapons endanger Haitian democracy.
Powell praised the U.S.-led Multinational Interim Force in Haiti. He said prospects for a U.N. follow-on force taking over from the force in June are good.
The secretary met with Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue and U.S. Ambassador to Haiti James B. Foley. Army Gen. James T. Hill, U.S. Southern Command chief, and Marine Brig. Gen. Ronald S. Coleman, Combined Joint Task Force Haiti commander, also briefed the secretary.
The Multinational Interim Force now has about 3,700 members: 2,000 American, 900 French, 500 Canadian and 300 Chilean military personnel. The U.S. contingent has personnel from all DoD services and the Coast Guard. Officials stressed, though, that Coast Guard cutters patrolling off Haiti are not part of the force.
Marine Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, a spokesman for the task force, said that the situation in Haiti is improving day by day. "The number of incidents are down and acts of violence are decreasing," he said in a phone interview. "Businesses are reopening and operating. Traffic is getting bad again, and that is a good sign."
Lapan said there have been no recent shooting incidents involving multinational troops.
Combined Joint Task Force Haiti, he said, is continuing its mission assigned by the United Nations. The force is helping to bring stability, security and humanitarian supplies to Haiti, and is shaping the environment for follow-on force.
Confiscating illegal weapons is part of the security and stability mission. "If we see weapons carried openly or being used in a threatening manner, we confiscate them and turn them over to the Haitian National Police," Lapan said. "If we hear of illegal weapons caches, we seek those out. In two instances, armed gangs negotiated the turn-in of their weapons."
To date, the force has collected more than 100 weapons of various types. Lapan said the command is considering other methods to get weapons off the streets.
Lapan said French forces are in the northern part of the country around Cap Haitien, Fort Liberte and Gonaives. U.S., Canadian and Chilean troops are based in and around Port-au-Prince.
Brazilian officials have expressed an interest in leading the follow-on peacekeeping force. Brazilian officials have visited Haiti to get the lay of the land, officials said.