Haiti rebels say attack on capital imminent
* US agents escort foreigners out of Haitian capital
PORT-AU-PRINCE: Armed rebels who have overrun half of Haiti warned on Thursday of an imminent attack on the capital and told President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to leave his national palace immediately.
Barricades littered the garbage-strewn streets before an expected attack by the rebels, many former soldiers who accuse Aristide of being a corrupt thug. But fewer pro-Aristide gang members roamed the streets than a day earlier, when motorists were shaken down for money and cellphones at the roadblocks.
Schools were closed and shops were shuttered as many residents stayed home. Foreigners and Haitians crammed the airport to flee, fearing flights to and from the country could soon be suspended. “The attack is imminent and I ask the population to stay home when we attack Port-au-Prince,” rebel leader Guy Philippe told local radio from Cap Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city that was taken by rebels last weekend.
“I advise President Aristide to leave the national palace immediately, we will attack shortly at the national palace and capture him,” the former police chief and soldier said.
A negotiated end seems distant. Opposition political groups, who distance themselves from the rebels, insist Aristide must quit, throwing a wrench in U.S-backed efforts to bring an end to the conflict with a power sharing accord. A three-week insurgency in the America’s poorest nation has set Aristide’s 4,000-man police force against hundreds of insurgents.
US agents: Armed US government agents on Thursday escorted dozens of wives and children of UN staff and 10 European Union officials out of the Haitian capital to get a flight out of the troubled country. The US special diplomatic security agents, armed with automatic weapons, guided buses carrying the nervous foreigners to Port-au-Prince airport, a day after the departure had been postponed because of gangs of armed supporters of President Jean Bertrand Aristide manning barricades across the capital.
Though armed rebels are keeping up threats to march on the capital, tensions had visibly eased Thursday, with fewer thugs on the streets. A senior Western diplomat in Port au-Prince said the United States, France and other international representatives had expressed outrage over the gangs to the Aristide government. “We made clear in no uncertain terms that what happened yesterday was unacceptable,” said the diplomat. —Reuters/AFP