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Peace groups urge solidarity with Haitians: U.N. monitors flee as violence increases.

U.N. monitors flee as violence increases

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - While international monitors were fleeing the intensifying violence in Haiti after renewed U.N. sanctions, volunteers in the Cry for Justice program, along with other religious and human rights groups, held their ground on the beleaguered island.

Less than two weeks before the scheduled Oct. 30 return of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the situation in Haiti was as fluid as it was volatile. As expected, Haitian military leader Gen. Raoul Cedras thumbed his nose at the U.N.-brokered agreement he signed last summer and refused to step down Oct. 15.

A day earlier, only two hours after President Clinton warned Haiti's military rulers that the United States would hold them responsible for the safety of members of Aristide's transitional government, gunmen assassinated the justice minister and two of his aides. Threats of impending attacks on foreigners followed and U.N. and Organization of American States monitors began leaving the country in droves.

"While we understand fears for their safety, now is not the time to abandon Haiti," said National Lawyers Guild spokesman Allan Ebert at an Oct. 19 press conference in Washington. Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton backed up Ebert's plea and urged the United Nations and the OAS to put their monitors back into the country.

Gumbleton is on the national council of Pax Christi USA, one of the organizers of the Cry for Justice project. Project volunteers have been in Haiti since late September and there are plans to continue that nonviolent presence for peace into December.

One volunteer, Sarah Hansen, a Kansas City Catholic Worker, told The Kansas City Star in an Oct. 13 interview from Port-au-Prince that she felt cautious but not fearful. "It would be counterproductive of me to be fearful," she said. "I have to be faithful. I'm very aware of the people around me. I'm very aware of my skin color in a country that is black, but I feel safe, sometimes safer than others."

But then the violence in Port-au-Prince intensified. Hansen's group of about 20 volunteers left the capital for the Haitian countryside, where they reportedly felt more secure.

Other foreigners were also hunkering down. Catholic Relief Services was closing its downtown Port-au-Prince office early each day because attache (police auxiliary) gunmen often roamed the streets in the afternoon. The CRS food program has also been disrupted.

The United States increased military security at its embassy while U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels patrolled Haitian waters to enforce the U.N. oil and arms embargo. In what most observers saw as merely another stalling tactic, Cedras called for renewed negotiations.

Holy Ghost Fr. Antoine Adrien, a close adviser to Aristide, told the Oct. 19 press conference that it would be impossible for Aristide to return to Haiti as long as Cedras and Port-au-Prince Police Chief Michel Francois remain in control. Adrien said the United States and the United Nations "bear special responsibility for the current impasse because they pressured President Aristide, against his better judgment, to agree that the military high command could remain in power until just two weeks before his scheduled returnm."

Other Haitian sources were skeptical about U.S. intentions. The Haitian Information Bureau, a voice of Haiti's grassroots democratic movement, speculated that the United States might play transition Prime Minister Robert Malval against Aristide to weaken Aristide's position. "No matter what," HIB reported, "the U.S. is fighting to remain the sole master of the game."

The Vatican, meanwhile, told Catholic News Service it supported the restoration of democracy in Haiti and was ready to deal with Aristide, although it still had reservations about his violation of a number of "religious norms" while he was an active priest. Aristide was expelled from the Salesian order in 1988 because of his political activity.

A Vatican official also told CNS that Rome could not forget that in 1991 Aristide supporters attacked the papal nuncio's residence and other church property and personnel in Port-au-Prince. Aristide said at the time that he regretted the incidents.

Later, the Vatican became the only state in the world to recognize the regime that overthrew him. Some might say that that, too, will be hard to forget.
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Author:McCarthy, Tim
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Oct 29, 1993
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