Ariana Cubillos  /  AP
Former soldier and rebel leader Remissainthe Ravix, surrounded by more than 20 of his men, during an interview in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday.
updated 10/13/2004 8:07:08 PM ET 2004-10-14T00:07:08

Ex-soldiers who ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in a deadly revolt said Wednesday reinforcements are advancing on Haiti’s capital to halt violence that has killed at least 48 people — a move that threatens conflict with armed Aristide militants and U.N. peacekeepers.

Tensions heightened in the capital of 2.5 million, which Tuesday had enjoyed one day of relative peace in two weeks of gunbattles and beheadings.

More than 20 heavily armed men in military fatigues gathered in an apartment in Petionville, a hillside suburb overlooking Port-au-Prince, and former Maj. Remissainthe Ravix told The Associated Press that other ex-soldiers were coming from more than two dozen bases around the country.

He declined to say how many. The core rebel force estimated at 200 has been joined by many recruits.

‘Operation Baghdad’
Port-au-Prince has been plagued by unrest since Aristide supporters stepped up demands that he be restored to power from exile in South Africa. It began with a Sept. 30 demonstration marking the 1991 coup when soldiers first ousted Aristide. Police reportedly shot and killed two protesters, and the same day the bodies of three police officers were beheaded.

Aristide followers say the police started the violence, while the U.S.-backed interim government blames Aristide’s Lavalas Family Party and a new terror campaign called “Operation Baghdad.”

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on Tuesday accused Aristide loyalists of “a campaign to destabilize the interim government and disrupt the efforts of the international community.”

‘We can't allow it’
Ravix said ex-soldiers are tired of sitting by as the violence rages, and he also blamed Aristide’s party.

“We see Lavalas gangsters shooting parents as they take their children to school, stores can’t open, life can’t continue. The things that are happening, we can’t allow it,” said Ravix, displaying a sword with the inscription, “Haitian Guard, Honor and Fatherland.”

Holding a poster with photographs of alleged criminals, Ravix said: “This is a list of bandits. The police can’t get them. I will arrest all of them.”

Aristide supporters plan more demonstrations Friday to mark the 10th anniversary of Aristide’s return from exile, restored by some 20,000 U.S. troops in 1994.

The former priest fled the country again Feb. 29 after a three-week revolt led by a street gang and ex-soldiers that killed dozens. U.S. Marines arrived the day Aristide left and were replaced by Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeepers in June.

Fighting ‘occupation’
Aristide supporters are demanding an end to the “occupation” by foreign troops.

Politician Evans Paul, a one-time mayor of Port-au-Prince and prominent Aristide opponent, on Wednesday criticized the U.N. force and indicated Aristide remains a power even from afar.

“Aristide was replaced, but he still controls the streets — and in Haiti power comes from the streets,” Paul said in a telephone interview.

He said the U.N. force has been “a big disappointment,” leaving a power vacuum the government cannot fill.

Rebels also have accused U.N. troops of doing little to bring peace and have called Haiti’s police corrupt. While peacekeepers have a presence in a few major cities and towns, rebels still control much of Haiti’s countryside.

Angry young men
The rebels advancing on Port-au-Prince will “work with anyone” police or peacekeepers — to make sure they “stop the ‘chimeres’ and provide security,” Ravix said, using the Creole word that means “angry young men” or “monsters” to describe armed gangsters loyal to Aristide.

Ravix and other rebel leaders have formed a political party and have friendly relations with the interim government, which they want to reinstate the army that Aristide disbanded. Last week, the government announced it would integrate some ex-soldiers, including rebels, into security efforts, without clarifying their role.

Aristide supporters say the rebels should be disarmed and convicted criminals in their ranks should be jailed.

Two weeks ago, Ravix’s men tried to enter the flood-ravaged northwestern city of Gonaives, but were turned away by U.N.  peacekeepers who said they could only come in without their guns.

Food distribution disrupted
Street gangs and storm survivors in Gonaives had been looting U.N. food convoys and rioting at food distribution points.

Tropical Storm Jeanne left some 1,900 dead and another 900 missing, most presumed dead, along with 200,000 homeless living on rooftops and in the street.

About 120 shipping containers of food aid from the World Food Program are stuck at Port-au-Prince’s seaport due to violence, spokeswoman Anne Poulsen said Wednesday.

The clashes in Port-au-Prince also have prompted the overextended U.N. force to redeploy troops from Gonaives to the capital. The U.N. force was to include 8,000 troops but so far only 3,000 have arrived. Some 200 Spanish sailors are leaving Friday to join the force in Haiti, the Spanish Defense Ministry said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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