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Peace in Haiti Delayed While Rebel Soldiers Patrol Cities

By Lydia Polgreen

The New York Times -- CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti

Rebel soldiers consolidated their grip on Haiti’s second-largest city on Monday, sending truckloads of armed men to patrol the streets and going from house to house arresting pro-government militants, while political opposition leaders asked for an additional 24 hours to mull a peace proposal presented by the Bush administration and its allies.

“They’re moving in our direction, but we’re not there yet,” said one administration official briefed on the talks.

Residents pillaged and burned any symbol they could find of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his party, Lavalas, exacting chaotic revenge on a government they say terrorized them. Looters took the benches and lawyers’ tables from the courthouse before setting it on fire, and helped themselves to the contents of houses of government supporters.

“Lavalas is gone, they ran away,” said a man who struggled to strap a dining chair he took from the house of a Lavalas partisan to the back of his bicycle while balancing a stereo speaker under his arm. “Now this is mine.”

In the capital, Port-au-Prince, 50 Marines arrived on Monday afternoon to secure the U.S. Embassy, while some panicky government ministers began casting about for secure hiding places and other vowed to repel the rebel advance.

Louis-Jodel Chamblain, leader of the rebel troops, said their capture of Cap-Haitien, the birthplace of the slave uprising that created the world’s first black republic 200 years ago, is a symbol of their intention to wrest control of the entire nation and expel the embattled president. “Cap-Haitien is a symbol of Haiti’s freedom,” Chamblain said. “This fight is to liberate the Haitian people under the regime of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.”

But there were some indications Monday that the rebels might accept the peace plan that was put forth this weekend by Roger F. Noriega, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, and accepted in principle by Aristide.

Over the weekend, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell called a leader of the opposition, Andre Apaid, to urge him to sign onto the agreement, and U.S. diplomats made similar contacts with rebel leaders, officials said.

“We told them if they need more time, to take more time,” a senior state department official said.

Opposition leaders have told Powell that they were having a difficult time committing to an agreement, in part because their followers are so radicalized and opposed to leaving Aristide in office, even in a titular role.

Under the proposed accord, put forth by the United States and representatives from the Organization of American States and France, a tripartite commission would be set up to name a new prime minister and a government of national unity. Aristide would remain as president.

The international community would take part in the commission and serve as a sort of referee between the president and his enemies, according to officials briefed on the offer, which has not been made public. The new government would lay the groundwork for parliamentary elections sometime later this year and presidential elections toward the end of Aristide’s term, in 2006.

Whatever happens in the peace talks, the taking of Cap-Haitien has effectively put the rebels in control of not just half the country but Haiti’s heartland, where the original slave uprising started.