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Marine Team Deploys to Haiti

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2004 – A team of 50 Marines has departed the United States to beef up security for the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, U.S. Southern Command confirmed today.

The Marines are part of the Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team out of Naval Base Norfolk, Va. The team is under the operational control of U.S. Southern Command based in Miami.

The team will assist the Marine security detachment at the embassy. In addition, a Southern Command assessment team continues its work in Haiti, Pentagon officials said.

U.S. Ambassador to Haiti James B. Foley requested the assessment team last week.

Rebel groups opposed to Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide have taken the country's second largest city, Cap Haitien, according to news reports. The groups, many formerly allied with Aristide, blew up the police station and ransacked the airport, the news reports said.

The four-man assessment team is in the country to check on the security of the embassy and its staff. Pentagon officials said the team and the FAST deployment is not a prelude to a noncombatant evacuation order, but is a prudent course, given the situation in the Caribbean nation.

A State Department travel advisory "strongly urged" all American citizens to leave Haiti while commercial flights are still available. About 20,000 Americans live in the nation.

The State Department has also ordered the departure of all family members and nonessential personnel from the embassy in Port-au-Prince. Some international aid organizations have already left the country, State Department officials said, and others are closing their operations now.

State Department officials said pro-government and anti-government groups are fighting in the northern part of the country. Americans could become caught between the groups, and the ability of U.S. embassy officials to intervene is very limited, State Department officials said.

The United States, European Union and Caribbean nations are involved with negotiations to end to the unrest in Haiti.

Haiti is acknowledged as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The United States led a U.N.-sponsored multinational force to the country in 1994. The mission was to get Haiti's military dictatorship to step down and restore to power Haiti's constitutionally elected government led by President Jean- Bertrand Aristide.

On Sept. 19, 1994, with U.S. troops already airborne, Haitian military dictator Gen. Raul Cedras and other top leaders agreed to step down. The intervening force, became an overseeing force and more than 21,000 service members from a number of countries helped with the restoration of the constitutional government. Aristide and other elected officials in exile returned to Haiti Oct. 15.

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