Gunmen Open Fire on State Council, 1 Dead, Two Wounded
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Four gunmen, including two in army uniforms, opened fire today on a meeting of the government’s Council of State, killing a union leader and wounding a council member and another poltician, witnesses said.
The shooting occurred at 10:45 a.m. in the courtyard of the Santos Hotel in Port-au-Prince, where the 19-member council was meeting, according to the witnesses and independent Radio Antilles.
The civilian council governs alongside President Ertha Pascal-Trouillot. She was not present at today’s meeting.
The council had called an emergency meeting with various political, business and union groups to discuss a worsening crime wave in the country. Since Tuesday, at least 13 people have been killed in the capital, heightening political uncertainty in the runup to elections scheduled for September.
There have been questions of the military’s support for a civilian government. The military and rural police traditionally have controlled many sectors of Haitian society.
A bystander interviewed by independent Radio Metropole said the assailants were armed with M-16 rifles.
Witnesses said the gunmen burst in the hotel courtyard and opened fire. They said two of the gunmen wore army uniforms and two wore civilian cothes.
One witness said he heard two rounds of automatic gunfire, in bursts of four to five shots.
A truckload of soldiers arrived a half hour later at the hotel in a mainly residential area of the capital.
Witnesses and Radio Antilles identified the dead man as union activist Jean-Marie Montes.
Council member Serge Villard was wounded in the stomach and Emmanuel Mani, a member of the socialist National Progressive Party, was wounded in the thigh, the reports said. Both were said to have been hospitalized.
″It is horrible,″ said Rene Theodore, leader Haitian Communist Party. ″It doesn’t seem the government can cope with the situation ... If the problem is not resolved, it is difficult to hold elections.″
There was no comment from Ms. Pascal-Trouillot’s office. She has made no statement since Monday, when she said illness forced her to cancel a visit scheduled that day at the U.N. headquarters in New York.
Ms. Pascal-Trouillot, a former Supreme Court justice, was sworn in March 13 after Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril fled to exile amid widespread protests against his military government in this nation of about 5.3 million.
Haiti, the first republic of former slaves, gained independence from France in 1804 and has since been governed mostly by repressive military rulers.