Daniel Aguilar  /  Reuters file
A man pours gasoline on a Haitian suspected of being a multiple assassin for Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas party, before he is burned alive in Petit Goave, Haiti, about 30 miles south of Port-au-Prince, on Wednesday.
updated 3/5/2004 4:49:21 PM ET 2004-03-05T21:49:21

It took an armed posse five days to track down Ti Roro. Once they did, Roro was beaten with sticks, taken to the morgue to identify his alleged victims, ringed with gasoline-soaked tires and burned alive.

With no police, no courts and no law, communities are taking justice into their own hands, hunting down former militants of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide who they say made their lives a living hell.

“It took him more than an hour to die, but as he was burning, he admitted to all of the 15 people he killed in the last year,” said Joubert Muraille, 41, who witnessed Wednesday’s killing but said he did not participate. “He deserved it 1,000 times.”

This small colonial city 40 miles west of the capital has been bitterly divided since Aristide won his second election victory in 2000 and pro-government militias began terrorizing opposition members.

At the mercy of the people
The climate changed quickly, though, when Aristide fled Sunday.

Police vanished, government officials fled, court offices bolted shut and pro-Aristide militias went on the run from armed posses stepping in as ragtag sheriffs.

The posses are responsible only for rounding up the Aristide militants. They say they don’t kill anyone. That’s left to the mercy of the population.

“We’re in control of the city, and we don’t want to kill anyone,” said Daddy Ostine, 24, holding a machine gun in a group of armed men. “But these people have been abused for years. Once there is stability we will disarm.”

‘Two sides now — for and against Aristide’
Roland Lysias said it was Ti Roro who killed his 21-year-old son, Junior, two months ago because he had been a known member of an opposition group. He said Roro cut off his son’s feet, severed his hands, gouged out his eyeballs and set him ablaze.

Lysias said he didn’t take part in Roro’s killing but asked the community for justice.

“We had to treat evil with evil,” said Lysias, 72, his face withered, hands shaking. “If there was another way to bring about justice, I would accept that. But right now there is no other way.

This is the only justice we can find right now.”

Witnesses to the killing said the crowd cheered as Roro was set afire. After he was dead, family members of alleged victims threw rocks at his charred corpse. The town’s residents quickly buried the body across the street from the hospital, next to a heap of foul trash. Another young man accused of being a pro-Aristide militant and rapist was also beaten by townspeople. On Thursday, he lay on a steel gurney, separate from the other hospital patients. He was hooked up to an IV and unable to talk. His condition appeared serious.

Doctors said most of the dozen patients in the hospital were victims of gunbattles that erupted Sunday after news spread of Aristide’s departure. Seven bodies were in the morgue, including a young woman caught in crossfire.

“There are only two sides now — for and against Aristide,” Lysias said.

‘Don't abandon us’
It’s unclear how soon the town will get police or new government officials.

International peacekeepers led by the United States, France and Canada are patrolling the capital, Port-au-Prince, and forces are doing assessments in other areas of the country, including the second-largest city of Cap-Haitien and Gonaives, where a street gang launched a bloody and popular uprising nearly a month ago that helped drive Aristide from power.

So far, peacekeepers have stayed out of the small towns, even though they are just as lawless as many of the larger cities. “We haven’t slept because we need to keep the city safe,” said Junior Lionel, 33, clasping his World War II-era M-1 rifle. “We need help from the Americans and peacekeepers, but they can’t just come in here and abandon us like they did the last time.”

U.S.-led troops helped restore Aristide to power in 1994, four years after he was ousted as Haiti’s first freely elected president. Peacekeepers struggled to keep the peace, then, too.

The bodies are also piling up this time, especially in towns where police and government officials have fled. In Gressier, just east of Petit-Goave, four bodies were dumped on the side of the road Thursday. Three had their hands tied, and all had been shot in the head.

Four more bodies were found Wednesday near Carrefour. All had their hands tied, and all had been shot in the head. “What we’re living in is a time of despair,” said Sebien Saint-Fils, 56.

For years, Petit-Goave had been a flash point of anti-government tensions. One pro-Aristide group ambushed and hacked to death journalist Brignol Lindor in 2001, days after opposition members spoke on his radio talk show. Ten Aristide partisans were charged with murder, but only two have been found.

“It’s a big problem,” said street vendor Luta Charles, 57. “If we have a situation, we’re left almost like animals by ourselves. Justice is something they sell in a measuring cup.”

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