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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Troops Make Peaceful Landing in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- U.S. soldiers landed without resistance Monday morning at the international airport, beginning their mission to restore Haiti's elected leadership.


Troops warily alighted from waves of helicopters that crossed from U.S. warships offshore and set down at the airfield. The troops were the vanguard of thousands of soldiers who will enforce a last-minute agreement that averted an invasion of this impoverished Caribbean nation.


Under a cloudless blue sky, Major General David Meade told reporters on arrival, "We haven't seen any resistance and we haven't expected any."


Earlier in the morning at first light, two U.S. warships and a Coast Guard cutter glided into port and secured the country's main harbor. A huge aircraft carrier shimmered in the mist on the horizon.


General Henry Shelton, field commander of the Haiti operation, arrived after the airfield was secured.


Shelton, easily distinguishable in a red beret under heavy U.S. guard, said nothing as he strode off for an expected meeting with Haiti's military leader, Lieutenant General Raoul Cedras. Under the agreement reached late Sunday, Cedras is to relinquish power but he has reneged on past deals.


Heavily armed, helmeted soldiers from the first wave of helicopters dropped down on the tarmac at Port-au-Prince's international airport, aiming their automatic rifles outward. Moments later, they got up when Haitian commanders walked onto the airstrip to meet them.


Waves of helicopters carrying 10 or more soldiers each landed minutes later.


The accord reached Sunday night calls for Haiti's military leaders to step down and exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to return.


Haitians in the port went about their morning business Monday, women carrying baskets of fruit and buckets of water on their heads and men pulling wooden carts. But there were many fewer people in the streets. Thousands had fled the capital out of fear of a U.S.-led invasion or retaliation by army supporters.


But along a stretch of shoreline in Carrefour, eight kilometers west of the capital, hundreds of people stared out from the shore or their homes at the ships and the helicopters overhead.


The accord, reached after U.S. President Clinton ordered American paratroopers into the air, halted a land, sea and air assault scheduled for today. In return, the pact calls for a lifting of the debilitating UN embargo that has made life on this poor island even tougher.


Scattered gunfire broke out late Sunday after an American delegation headed by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter ended two days of talks with Cedras and Brigadier General Philippe Biamby, army chief of staff.


A third junta leader, the Port-au-Prince police chief, Lieutenant Colonel Michel Francois, was not a party to the agreement. He has gone into "virtual hiding," unidentified senior administration officials were quoted in Monday's New York Times as saying.


The military leaders who toppled Aristide on Sept. 30, 1991, backed down and agreed to let American forces enter the country peacefully to oversee the transfer of power. The military regime is to relinquish power by Oct. 15.


Haiti's 81-year-old President, Emile Jonassaint, went on television just before midnight Sunday to announce he had signed the accord and asked his "Haitian brothers" to maintain calm. "You may go to sleep knowing that there will not be any invasion," said Jonassaint, who was installed by the military in May.


Local residents expressed uncertainty about what happens next in Haiti, an impoverished nation wracked by violence and with no tradition of democracy.


There has been no comment from Aristide, who has been living in exile in the United States since the coup drove him from power after seven months in office.


The agreement did not name Aristide or say when he would return, a concern to his supporters in Haiti, who also worried about their security in the interim.


The Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, Aristide's liaison with the Haitian diaspora, called the accord "a great step in the right direction." But he said the feared civilian police auxiliaries should be disarmed.


Although Aristide is revered by the majority of Haitians, his supporters stayed indoors rather than celebrating. There was reason to fear. A burst of automatic gunfire was heard downtown overnight near army headquarters and a hotel packed with foreign reporters. Two cars were stolen by gunmen who said they needed them "to patrol the city for the government."


After the sun came up, Haitian soldiers were seen at their usual posts outside army headquarters. Military supporters sat in front of a neo-Duvalierist party headquarters.


The Duvalier family, led first by longtime dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and then his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, has controlled Haiti for decades. Biamby, who in 1989 took part in a failed coup attempt, is considered a Duvalier loyalist.


Reaction to Sunday night's accord was volatile in Miami, the largest Haitian exile community.


"They have to leave now. Now. Now. Now!" screamed Samedi Floruil, one of about 75 outraged Haitians who blocked a street in the city's Little Haiti neighborhood for two hours Sunday night.


The accord comes nearly a year after Cedras reneged on a UN-brokered deal at Governor's Island off New York's Lower Manhattan that would have had him step down and permit Aristide to resume power.


Under the new agreement, Haiti's dictators agreed to step down as soon as the Haitian parliament passes an amnesty law to protect the coup leaders and their supporters from retribution. The pact requires they step down by Oct. 15 no matter what.


The agreement, however, does not require Cedras to leave Haiti or even mention him by name. Neither he nor Biamby signed the agreement.


The accord promises to end the UN embargo imposed after Cedras failed to honor last year's agreement.


In an interview Monday morning with Cable News Network, Carter said the negotiations almost fell apart at the last moment when Biamby came into the room and announced that American planes were on their way.


Carter said he was not aware planes were on their way though he knew the general schedule of the invasion.


"I was distressed because what we had worked on to accomplish was about to come apart,"Carter said.