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Right-wing Haiti Grenade Attack Leaves Five Dead

By Kenneth Freed and Mark Fineman
Los Angeles Times

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - A grenade attack on a pro-democracy demonstration Thursday killed at least five people and wounded more than 30 in a bloody act of resistance by Haiti's military dictatorship and its murderous supporters.

The killings came on the eve of the third anniversary of the violent overthrow of the country's only democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose impending return has been marked repeatedly in recent days by sneak attacks, beatings and shootings of his supporters.

According to witnesses, hundreds of demonstrators marching between downtown and the city's airport were passing a warehouse owned by Lt.Col. Michel-Joseph Francois, Haiti's feared police chief and a leader of the ruling military junta, when at least one grenade was thrown from a car that may have emerged from the building.

Paradoxically, Francois, one of the three Haitian officers who have ruled Haiti with violence and corruption since the coup, was reported by friends and U.S. military sources to have packed up his office and was preparing to leave the country within days.

Francois thus would be the first of the three Haitian military leaders to accede to U.S. and U.N. demands that they leave power or face punishment for their ousting of Aristide.

Witnesses said that Thursday's grenades were thrown by known members of a civilian terrorist wing of the Haitian army, at least one of whom was later tracked by a U.S. military police dog team that led him away in handcuffs.

The final death toll from the second attack on peaceful demonstrators in two days was incomplete by dusk Thursday, but eyewitnesses, hospitals, the Haitian Red Cross and U.S. officials agreed that the total of people killed or wounded was more than 40.

A passing U.S. Army patrol stumbled onto the incident and opened fire just moments after the explosions. It was unclear whether the American forces hit any of the demonstrators or any of the attackers, but at least one of attackers was reported among the dead.

U.S. Army Col. John Ryneska, who also happened by the scene soon after the attack occurred, said none of the American forces was injured, and he confirmed that at least one Haitian had been detained after the attack.

As Francois prepared to flee Thursday and some of his followers were engaged in the killings, thousands of Haitians swarmed outside city hall, listening through loudspeakers installed by U.S. forces as Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul reclaimed the office taken from him during the coup.

The last time Paul tried to enter city hall, on Aug. 8, 1993, a mob summoned by the military stormed the building and killed eight people. Paul, a 38-year-old former radio newscaster and playwright with an immense public following, had been in hiding ever since.

Paul, whose popularity and anti-military stance have occasioned several beatings and a near-fatal torturing in 1988, called on each ruling general - and on Francois by name - to depart. "No law says you must leave the country ... but for the sake of peace, you should do it," Paul said to deafening applause. "Leave the country for a time. When peace is restored, you can come back."

Paul also appealed several times during his half-hour speech for peaceful change and called on all Haitians to shun revenge. "A true democrat does not seek vengeance," he said. "A democrat does not seek violence. A democrat seeks only peace, democracy, justice, unity and progress.

Thursday's pro-democracy marchers did not heed Paul's call. They sacked the warehouse at the site of the grenade attack, hauling out thousands of bags of cement that Francois had stocked while still in control.

Francois, who used his position to earn millions in businesses ranging from auto towing to smuggling to cement importing, will retire and go into exile in the neighboring Dominican Republic, where he has a home and huge investments, sources said Thursday.

A U.S. military source confirmed the account, adding that Francois might have left by the end of the day Thursday. Army chief Lt.Gen. Raoul Cedras and his chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby have denied repeatedly that they would leave the country, although both are expected to resign their positions before the Oct. 15 deadline.