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Priests in Hiding Following Attack by Gunmen

August 25, 1987

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ An outspoken Roman Catholic priest and three other church officials are hiding following an attack by armed men during a Mass, a radio station reported.

Radio Haiti Inter said Monday that the Rev. Jean Bertrand Aristide, the Rev. Jean-Marie Vincent, the Rev. Antoine Adrien and Rev. William Smart fled in a car toward Port-au-Prince Sunday after a group of men burst into a church 60 miels north of the capital and opened fire.

According to the radio station, the priests had been invited Sunday to a church near the town of St. Marc to say a Mass in memory of the 70 or more landless peasants massacred July 23 by sharecroppers working for landowners near the town of Jean Rabel.

As the local pastor was introducing Aristide, an outspoken critic of the government, gunmen burst into the church, fired their weapons and began to beat people, the radio said. Local residents identified the gunmen as supporters of deposed dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, the station said.

The priests and other church officials fled, according to the radio station.

According to Axel Martial, a layman accompanying the priests, soldiers searched the car at a police post south of St. Marc. Less than 100 yards away, he said, another roadblock was set up by 50 men armed with guns and machetes. The radio identified them as former members of the private Duvalier militia known as the Tontons Macoutes.

As the priests sped through the roadblock, the attackers shouted ″Communists″ at them, broke the car windows and injured some of the priests with stones, Martial said.

″They beat me with rocks and sticks, thinking I was Aristide,″ said Martial, whose car did not make it through the roadblock. ″When they saw I was not, they let me go.″

Three of the priests suffered superficial injuries from stones and shattered glass, the radio station reported.

Since mid-July, Catholic missionaries working to organize Haiti’s poor have increasingly come under attack by soldiers and former Macoutes who claim the religious workers are Communists.

Duvalier fled the country Feb. 7, 1986 and the Caribbean island nation has been governed since by a military-civilian junta led by Gen. Henri Namphy.

Radio stations reported several instances last week of missionaries in Jeremie, on the southwest peninsula, being intimidated and beaten by soldiers and peasants working for landowners.

A week after the killings at Jean Rabel, soldiers tried to arrest the priests who helped organize the peasants, and sharecroppers burned down the priests’ mission. The priests escaped.

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