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U.S. Troops Land in Haiti, Start Peaceful Restoration

By Douglas Farah
The Washington Post
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti

With gunships flying overhead, thousands of U.S. troops landed unopposed in Haiti and occupied the capital Monday, launching a peaceful but risk-laden operation to stabilize the country and replace its military rulers with exiled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The first U.S. troops hit the ground at the Mais Gate International Airport under a hot tropical sun at 9:30 a.m. without incident, met by the Haitian army's deputy commander, Brig. Gen. Jean-Claude Duperval. While helicopters ferried troops into the city for most of the day without a shot being fired, Haitians quietly ventured out onto hilltops or the streets, standing in clusters to watch the action.

The U.S. intervention, led by Lt. Gen. Henry H. Shelton, was on its first day a far cry from the violent assault many here had feared and that the Clinton administration had threatened for weeks. Instead, Shelton vowed to work closely with the Haitian military - whose assumption of dictatorial power three years ago made the operation necessary - and in particular with its commander, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras.

Cedras, Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby and Lt. Col. Michel Francois, who agreed to relinquish power by Oct. 15 in a deal negotiated by former President Jimmy Carter, did not make an appearance Monday and have not spoken publicly since the agreement was struck Sunday night.

The 11th-hour deal was viewed in Washington as either a brilliant gambit that avoided unnecessary bloodshed or a naive pact with untrustworthy thugs. Aristide was publicly silent on the agreement while Republicans questioned the idea of a U.S. "occupation" of Haiti. They highlighted the danger of becoming involved in a Somalia-like quagmire.

Soon after the first troops from the army's 10th Mountain Division landed in helicopters from the USS Eisenhower, Shelton drove to the headquarters of the Haitian military to meet Cedras and Biamby.

Shelton strongly indicated that, pending their resignations, the Haitian commanders would be partners with U.S. forces in maintaining order. He told reporters after his first meeting that Cedras was "very cooperative," adding that U.S. troops were "very warmly received" by the Haitian military as well as the Haitian people.

"We discussed methods and techniques we could use to lower the risk" to American soldiers of violent confrontations with Haitian troops or their armed, paramilitary supporters known here as attaches, Shelton said. He said the U.S. and Haitian military staffs would work together to ensure order.

Shelton expressed concern over the risk to U.S. troops from Haiti's civil conflict. Peacekeeping is "not a primary goal" for U.S. troops, he said. He indicated that insofar as possible, American soldiers would be kept out of the conflict between backers of the Haitian army and those of Aristide. He said it was uncertain whether Americans would be sent to the slum districts of Port-au-Prince where that conflict is most violent.

"We hope to allow them (the Haitians) to handle ... with their own forces" any domestic conflict, Shelton said. He said he would "wait for guidance" from Washington on whether to try disarming the paramilitary forces blamed for the killings and atrocities here that were cited by President Clinton Thursday night as one of the reasons he decided to act against the ruling military triumvirate.

Pentagon officials in Washington said there will not be an attempt to comprehensively disarm the Haiti populace. If weapons are used in an incident, they will be confiscated, one senior official said, "but we're not going into slums to look for shotguns."

The administration has devised a weapons buy-back program, but it will be implemented "over time" and is not an immediate priority of the U.S. force, the official said.

The same goes for the complicated task of weeding out the 4,000 most undesirable members of Haiti's military, as agreed in discussions between the administration and Aristide. "We're not going to do it today. We're not going to do it tomorrow," the official said. "But what we're trying to do is create the conditions to allow that process to take place."

The danger of U.S. troops getting sucked into Haiti's conflict seemed illustrated this evening at the main port, where several thousand Haitians jammed Harry Truman Boulevard to watch U.S. troops secure the area and unload ships carrying tons of equipment.

Small groups of young men among a crowd of hundreds at the port gate, described as supporters of Aristide, taunted and stoned Haitian police deployed at the gate, according to witnesses. Haitians said such boldness would have been dangerous and unthinkable before today and that the presence of U.S. troops and news cameras had encouraged them.

There were to be about 3,000 troops in Port-au-Prince by the end of the day and the balance of the 15,000 troops on the ground by the end of the week to take part in Operation Uphold Democracy, a senior official said at the Pentagon.

"I am very happy, the Americans are going to bring democracy," said 24-year-old Malherb Terency, a resident of the Cite Soleil slum, as he watched the U.S. troop movements from under the bill of his Brooklyn Dodgers cap. "I am for Aristide 150 percent, and I want to get a job."

While there was not wild rejoicing at the arrival of the U.S. troops, most people seemed to think it was inevitable after all the talk of an invasion, and most supported it. Several people said there were no public manifestations of support because of fear that the military or its civilian backers would still seek reprisals.