WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. forces in Haiti will intervene to stop Haitian-on-Haitian violence, the top U.S. general over operations there said Wednesday, marking a significant escalation of the American mission in the Caribbean nation.

``They will intervene to protect life,'' Gen. James T. Hill, commander of U.S. Southern Command, told reporters at the Defense Department.Pentagon.

He portrayed the change as a natural evolution of the U.S. peacekeeping mission there, saying it required only a ``clarification'' of the rules that govern when U.S. troops can use force. But he acknowledged that it was a change since a few days ago.

The expanded mission goes along with Tuesday's announcement that U.S. forces will join Haitian police in disarming militants in the country.

In addition to taking weapons from people encountered on patrols, Hill said U.S. troops will also develop intelligence and conduct missions aimed specifically at weapons caches owned by any of the violent factions inside the country.

About 1,600 U.S. troops are in Haiti, including about 1,500 Marines. They are joined by more than 510 French, 320 Chilean and 50 Canadian soldiers. Another 400 Canadians are expected to join the effort shortly, Hill said.

Military leaders say their mission to guard key sites to prepare the way for a U.N. peacekeeping force.