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Police Operation to Mop Up Gangsters Goes Haywire, 11 Killed

March 8, 1996

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Residents say police angered by the beating of an officer rampaged through their seaside slum, bursting into shacks and shooting men and women on sight.

At least 11 people were killed during seven hours of violence and gunfire on Wednesday. Police said gang members were to blame for the deaths.

Mireille Jean and other residents of the Cite Soleil slum, however, maintain they saw officers storm into the homes.

``Police came looking for young men. They burst into your house. They say the ones they find are members of the Red Army (gang) and kill them,″ Jean said Thursday.

Slum residents, who in the days of Haiti’s dictatorship were terrorized by military forces, said they now fear a future controlled the police. U.N. peacekeepers, who recently scaled down their numbers from 6,200 to 1,500, have been supporting police for the last year but plan to leave in June.

The violence on Wednesday resulted from a dispute between members of the ``Red Army″ gang and police officers. Police reportedly were angered by the earlier beating of an officer _ an attack by gang members seeking revenge for the killing of one of their own on Monday.

Witnesses said police broke into shacks they believed contained gunmen and shot on sight. Police spokeswoman Hermione Leonard said gang members who had fired into a crowd of civilians were responsible.

U.N. spokesman Eric Falt said Thursday that seven people, including two women, were killed. But a reporter saw the bodies of nine men on Thursday, which added to the two women, accounting for 11 victims.

Shantytown residents said additional victims had been taken away or thrown into the sea.

Private Radio Metropole reported two police officers were hospitalized _ the beating victim and one suffering a bullet wound.

Witness Remy Auguste, 47, said he saw an officer go to a hut where a man had been feeding his two children, pull the father out, force him to the ground and shoot him. He showed a reporter the body, belly-down, his face fly-infested and partially devoured by pigs.

Slum dwellers, the poorest people in one of the poorest countries in the world, had expected a better life after three years of horror under military rule. Troops sent by U.S. President Clinton disarmed the army and restored ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in October 1994.

The United States paid for a new police academy and helped train the police, an elite force chosen by nationwide examinations in a country where three-quarters of people cannot read.

Many residents said the former military forces, members of the paramilitary front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH, now make up the gangs who continue to terrorize them.

Sources said gang weapons either came from a FRAPH stockpile, were stolen from U.N. peacekeepers, or were acquired in last year’s disorderly disarmament campaign.

``The instigators want insecurity to reign throughout the country,″ Justice Minister Pierre Max Antoine said Thursday.

However, U.N. spokesman Falt said there was no evidence of political affiliation and little threat to democracy.

He said all armed elements within Cite Soleil totaled no more than 100 _ a relatively small number, he said, considering the slum’s population of 100,000.