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Senate Committee Refuses To Ratify Aristide’s Police Chief

December 23, 1995

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s pick as head of Haiti’s new civilian police force is meeting legislative opposition, amid allegations the former army officer dealt with drug traffickers.

The Senate Justice Commission has refused to ratify Lt. Col. Jean-Marie Fourel Celestin’s appointment, and the full Senate almost certainly will balk as well when it meets next week, Sen. Jean-Robert Sabalat said Friday.

Aristide appointed Celestin, head of palace security and a former army physician, as chief of police in a Nov. 30 executive order.

Opponents to the appointment are many: some see it as a bid by Aristide to ensure his control; European diplomats allege Celestin took a bribe last month to free drug dealers from prison; and human rights activists fear militarization of the police force, which U.S., Canadian and French officers is training to replace Haiti’s disbanded army.

The appointment also angered U.S. officials, who have pushed for an entirely new police force.

Their displeasure increased when, on Dec. 7, Aristide added the 1,400-member interim police force to the 3,500-member rookie National Police. Around 550 interim police officers are former soldiers.

In Washington on Friday, the head of the House International Relations Committee announced he was freezing $5 million for police training in Haiti. Rep. Benjamin Gilman, D-N.Y., said he feared Aristide was politicizing the police.

The hold on training funds would remain until officials weed human rights violators and criminals from U.S.-supported programs in Haiti, he said.

In November, Port-au-Prince Mayor Emmanuel Charlemagne said pressure from someone in Aristide’s palace entourage had insisted that the national prison release several drug dealers. European diplomats said there is evidence Celestin took an $80,000 bribe for the release.

A Celestin aide denied the allegations. ``I only know that Mr. Celestin has never had any dealings with drug traffickers,″ Jean Rodonthe said.

Justice Commission Chairman Sen. Herard Pauyo told the private Radio Signal F.M. that Celestin ``doesn’t have the requisite qualifications,″ but didn’t elaborate on his panel’s reason for rejecting the appointment.

Haiti is supposed to have more than 5,000 national police when the U.N. military intervention there ends in February.

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