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French, U.S. troops fan out from Haiti’s capital

French and U.S. troops fanned out from Haiti's capital on Friday in an effort to provide security for the movement of relief supplies.
A Haitian man on Friday walks past the word "thanks" scrawled in French on a wall, a reference to multi-national troops who are in the country.Jorge Silva / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

French troops on Friday began deploying to northern Haiti as U.S. troops fanned out to the east and the south, pledging to provide security to deliver food, medicine and other essential supplies disrupted during last month’s rebellion. 

About 200 French soldiers arrived Friday in Cap-Haitien, the northern port of 500,000 people that is Haiti’s second-largest city. Some 140 French Foreign Legionnaires reached Gonaives, the city north of Port-au-Prince, where a street gang began the armed rebellion that helped oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Rebels in both cities have said they will disarm only after their enemies in the Aristide camp lay down their weapons, and it was not immediately clear how troops hoped to deal with the impasse.

U.S. forces, meanwhile, continued to patrol the capital of Port-au-Prince and said they were planning to deploy to the south and east. Chilean troops replaced a U.S. Marine security detail at the international airport.

More than 700 Canadian troops were to be in Haiti by next week, said Marine Col. David Lapan.

Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue planned to visit Gonaives, his hometown, on Saturday — his first official trip outside the capital since he was named prime minister after Aristide fled Feb. 29.

Latortue’s visit was being coordinated with French and American troops, said Xavier Pons, spokesman for the French troops.

Drug allegations
U.S. Ambassador James Foley confirmed Friday that the United States has asked Canada for the extradition of Aristide’s top security chief, Oriel Jean, 39, for alleged drug trafficking.

The move underscored Washington’s claims that Aristide’s administration was corrupted by drug smuggling.

Jean, who denies the charges, had his U.S. visa revoked last year. He appeared in a Canadian court after being arrested in Toronto this week. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says he could face drug charges in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Two weeks ago, White House press secretary Scott McClellan accused Aristide of leading “a failed government that condoned official corruption, including drug trafficking,” but he refused to say what evidence there was to support that claim.

Roger F. Noriega, assistant U.S. secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, testified March 10 that “Aristide turned a blind eye to the rampant corruption and drug trafficking of those within his circle of power.”

In February, drug lord Beaudoin “Jacques” Ketant was sentenced to 27 years for money laundering and moving 41 tons of Colombian cocaine through Haiti to the United States. He told a Miami court that Aristide “turned the country into a narco-country.”

Ira Kurzban, then a Miami attorney for the Haitian government, dismissed the allegations, calling Ketant “a lying, convicted drug dealer.”

Aristide had accused the rebels of funding their uprising with money from the sale of illegal drugs.

Securing routes for aid
One of the key French missions in the north is providing security so relief organizations can help the needy, Pons said. During the insurrection, rebels isolated much of the region with roadblocks, blocking supplies of food, fuel and water.

Troops say they’re also helping a government with scant resources to disarm gangs, including armed Aristide loyalists. But rebels have been seen in the capital and other towns patrolling with assault weapons.

Since Aristide fled and peacekeepers arrived, at least six Haitians have been killed in clashes and one Marine was shot in the arm.

Aristide said he was forced out by the United States, which denies it did anything but help save the embattled leader’s life by arranging a flight to the Central African Republic. He has since flown to the nearby island of Jamaica to be with his wife and children.

It will take months to rebuild a shattered police force and disarm the groups who began the insurgency and loyalists who vow to keep fighting until Aristide returns.

The new interior minister, Gen. Herard Abraham, has proposed re-establishing a Haitian army to disarm the population. In 1995, Aristide disbanded the army that ousted him in 1001 and had for decades committed numerous human rights abuses.

A U.N. force is to take over by May but it is still unclear whether it will have any part in disarmament, said U.N. spokesman Frederick Schottler.