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Haiti Says U.S. Special Forces Troops May Have Helped Foes

By Douglas Farah and Dana Priest
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

The government of Haiti suggested Thursday that some U.S. Special Forces troops have helped Haitian army officers and militia members hide their guns to avoid confiscation, and it demanded an investigation to determine whether the practice is continuing.

The Haitian demand, by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's top aide, reflects longstanding irritation over the slow pace of efforts to disarm the now-disbanded Haitian army and its paramilitary allies, who have been held responsible for some of the worst human rights violations committed during the country's military dictatorship.

In part, the demand for an inquiry by the United Nations or the United States reflects concern in the Aristide government over an article in the Resister, an unofficial and ultraconservative American journal whose secretive publishers say they are active and recently retired Special Forces troops. In that article, published last January, writers claiming to be Special Forces soldiers who served in Haiti described helping Haitian soldiers and militiamen avoid arrest and stash their weapons to avoid a confiscation program that was official U.S. and U.N. policy. The writers acknowledged that they were violating orders in doing so.

While it remains unclear how many troops the Resister article may represent or how widespread their actions were, senior officials of the Aristide government said the information coincides with other, independent information they have been receiving since Aristide returned to Haiti 14 months ago.

"We cannot comment on the authenticity of the Resister," Leslie Voltaire, Aristide's chief of staff, said in a telephone interview from Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital. "However, the ramifications of its claims, if true, are so serious for the future security of the Haitian people that we feel it merits further investigation."

In a Nov. 17 document he said he submitted to the United Nations, Burton Wides, an American lawyer who represents the Haitian government in Washington, laid out Haiti's case and charged that U.S. forces have slowed down weapons searches and tipped off the targets of impending searches. The document was prepared before the Haitian government became aware of the Resister article, Wides said.

"That is a preposterous allegation, and it makes no sense," said Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon. "Quite the contrary, the Special Forces played a fundamental role in helping to stabilize Haiti. This involved assisting in the collection of weapons."

"With 24,000 troops in the country, it's not impossible these things could have happened, particularly in units headed by younger officers ... who didn't read the signals right. But I don't have any reason to believe they did," a senior State Department official involved in Haiti said. "If these allegations prove to have any substance, they should be looked into."

Almost from the beginning of the occupation, it was clear that Special Forces troops, mostly deployed outside the capital, viewed FRAPH as friends, not as the thugs and rights abusers described by the State Department and human rights organizations. They talked to reporters about dealing with FRAPH as a legitimate political party and the need for remnants of the Haitian army and police to impose order.