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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Moves to Curb Violence by Haitian Police

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Warning that U.S. soldiers might step in, the commander of American forces urged Haiti's military leaders Wednesday to stop using "unnecessary force" against pro-democracy demonstrators.


Sporadic violence erupted Tuesday at Port-au-Prince's docks, airport and huge Cite Soleil slum, while American soldiers stood by, hamstrung by policy made in Washington, and watched in dismay. Witnesses said one man was clubbed to death by a Haitian policeman.


The military government banned street demonstrations in a communique on state media late Tuesday night. The broadcast was repeated Wednesday morning.


To head off further violence, Lt. Gen. Henry Hugh Shelton and his top aides met Wednesday with army chief Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras. Shelton said he would urge Cedras to rein in police, soldiers and pro-army militiamen.


The "use of unnecessary force is a matter of concern to us," Shelton told reporters before the meeting at army headquarters.


Shelton said American soldiers would leave crowd control and law and order to Haitian authorities, but left open the possibility U.S. troops could step in if the situation goes out of control.


"It's an internal law and order sitaution," Shelton said, adding that if the Haitians fail to take the appropriate measures, "we will take the next step." He did not specify what that step might be.


The arrival of the Americans, under an accord brokered over the weekend that headed off an invasion, has prompted pro-democracy demonstrations and celebrations.


The jubiliation has led to ugly clashes with Haitian police, who beat and tear-gassed crowds that gathered to welcome the U.S. forces. American troops were preparing Wednesday to spread out from Haiti's two major cities amid appeals for calm by political leaders.


In Washington, White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta told reporters this morning: "We're going to increase the patrols. We're going to make very clear to General Cedras that we can't see the kind of repetition of the situation that we saw yesterday."


Shelton said one problem that does not bode well for efforts to quell the violence could be that Cedras does not have firm enough control over police or militiamen. "Many of them can be classified only as thugs," he said.


The potential for violence remains high in this wretchedly poor Caribbean nation as the intervention force gets organized and the ruling military and police desperately try to assure their own futures.


At the United Nations, the U.S. ambassador said the Security Council won't lift a trade embargo against Haiti until Aristide returns to power. Sanctions were imposed after the army overthrew Aristide in a bloody 1991 coup. Stricter embargoes and bans on travel and financial transactions have been imposed in the attempt to compel the military to restore him to power.


Ambassador Madeleine K. Albright has said the oil embargo and other sanctions could be suspended if Haiti's military rulers cooperated with the multinational force.


But on Tuesday night, after U.S. officials met with Aristide and Security Council members, Albright said, "What we have decided to do for now is not to ask for a suspension of sanctions."


Aristide, who has been living in exile in Washington, on Tuesday issued his first public statement since U.S. troops arrived. It mentioned the need for peace and democracy, but not the U.S.-Haiti agreement.


However, Wednesday Aristide spokesmen began softening their earlier criticism of the agreement, saying the exiled president regards the settlement as a "major step forward," and was "personally saluting President Clinton" for moving the process toward democracy forward.