US Soldier Killed in Haiti Shooting
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ A former Haitian army officer shot and killed a U.S. soldier at a military checkpoint Thursday, the first American death from hostile fire in Haiti, Haitian and U.S. officials said.
A second American soldier was wounded before the gunman was shot and killed, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Stan Schrager.
The gunman was a passenger in a white pickup truck that ran a checkpoint just after noon in the village of Bigot, about 100 miles north of the capital, Shrager said.
Two U.S. soldiers in a Humvee chased the truck, and then approached on foot when it stopped, he said. The Haitian gunman emerged shooting, killing one soldier and wounding the other.
A third American soldier arrived at the scene and shot and killed the gunman, he said. The names of the American soldiers weren’t released.
``Apparently it was a criminal activity and not directed at the U.S.,″ Schrager said.
An angry crowd pursued and captured the driver of the truck, who tried to flee on foot, said Gerarde Elysse, a spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry of the Haitian district where the shooting occurred.
``He was almost killed by the crowd,″ Elysse told The Associated Press. ``He was saved in the nick of time.″
Elysse identified the gunman as former Maj. Aurel Frederic, a former member of former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier’s private militia, and the driver as Jules Cesar, a bodyguard to Duvalier’s interior and defense minister, Roger LaFontant.
Frederic was kicked out of the military in 1989 in a dispute with then-dictator Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril.
The U.S. soldiers were part of a Special Forces contingent stationed in outlying towns as part of the multinational force that cleared the way for the return of elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in September after three years of military rule.
The surviving American soldier was undergoing surgery for a wounded arm, said Schrager. He said the driver was being questioned.
The fall of the military dictatorship has produced a crime wave, often blamed on unemployed gunmen who once enforced military rule and now are looking for another way to make a living.
Aristide has slashed the size of the army that ousted him from 6,000 men to 1,500, leaving many former soldiers without work. Last month, scores of discharged soldiers stormed army headquarters to demand back pay, prompting gunfights that left four people dead.
Overall, however, the U.S.-led mission has encounted little resistance, and Clinton administration officials earlier this week said the U.S. military would transfer authority to a U.N. force by mid-March.
At the height of the intervention last fall, there were 21,000 U.S. soldiers in Haiti. About 6,000 remain in the 8,000-member multinational force.
Three other Americans participating in the mission have died. One, a translator for the international police force, was killed in an accident. Three U.S. soldiers have committed suicide.
The shooting Thursday happened hours after Aristide presented outgoing multinational force head Maj. Gen. David Meade with a special medal of honor.
Maj. Gen. George Fischer, commander of the U.S. Army’s 25th division from Honolulu, Hawaii, will take over this weekend.