Political reprisals linger in post-Aristide Haiti

By Simon Gardner

01 Apr 2004 17:27:30 GMT

LEOGANE, Haiti, April 1 (Reuters) - Lawyer Leslie Jean-Louis was left with blood welling in the corner of his eye and bruises across his face when he was beaten up and almost lynched because he supports Haiti's ousted former leader.

Walking home from his office in the rural city of Leogane, around 20 miles (32 km) west of Port-au-Prince, he was jumped by opponents of ex-President Jean Bertrand Aristide on Wednesday and kicked and punched to the ground.

He said he owed his life to a policeman who fired shots to scare the crowd away.

A month after former slum priest Aristide went into exile after a bloody rebellion and the intervention of the United States, his followers still face reprisals in what they call a witch hunt against his democratically elected Lavalas Family party.

"They hit me just because I support Lavalas!" a terrified Jean-Louis, 33, said, tears mixing with blood on his face as he cowered inside the local police station. "Lavalas is no longer in power, but that's my party. That's democracy," he said,

Aristide's opponents accuse his fallen government of corruption and thuggery, and want to eliminate Lavalas.

Political violence has been a part of life in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, since it won independence from France 200 years ago.

Former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune has gone into hiding, saying right-wing rebels who overthrew Aristide have threatened to kill him.

Neptune does not trust Haiti's new U.S.-endorsed government to protect him because it has hailed the rebels as freedom fighters and is incorporating them into the national police force.

Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president, was whisked into exile on Feb. 29 and a rebel leader has vowed to kill him if he ever sets foot inside Haiti again.

Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has issued a blacklist of dozens of Aristide supporters, including Neptune, who are barred from leaving the country as a precautionary measure pending investigations of any "ill doing."

In central Leogane, dozens of locals marched on Wednesday to the house of their parish priest, an Aristide associate, accusing him of corruption and demanding police arrest him.

Tempers frayed.

"We don't want no more Lavalas. They is tyrants man!" shouted artist Jean Riguel Merolus, as women inside the grounds of the priest's house held hands, danced in a circle and prayed for an end to the standoff.

Vast swaths of rural Haiti, particularly in the north, are still under the control of rebels who led the February uprising. A 3,500-strong U.S.-led multinational interim force, in place under a United Nations mandate, has not tried to disarm them.

To the horror of human rights groups, Latortue has dubbed the men, many of whom have been linked with murder and torture in the past, freedom fighters.


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