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US Marines Secure Haiti's Main Port
Jim Teeple
VOA, Port-au-Prince
06 Mar 2004, 23:26 UTC


U.S. Marines have secured the main port in Haiti after a week of looting and violence caused its shutdown. Multi-national forces in Haiti could face their biggest test Sunday when opposing groups of demonstrators are expected to march through Port-au-Prince.

U.S. marines have established a base at the Port-au-Prince port, which has been shut ever since President Jean Bertrand Aristide fled Haiti last Sunday.

Haiti's main port is next to Cite Soleil, the largest slum in Port-au-Prince. Following Mr. Aristide's departure, there was massive looting at the port. Securing the port now allows the multi-national forces in Haiti to bring in heavy equipment as well as allow the resumption of shipping to the capital.

U.S. Marine Colonel Mark Garganus, who heads the multi-national forces in Haiti, said troops under his command are taking a step by step approach to security, securing major points in the capital such as the National Palace, the airport and the seaport and working closely with the Haitian police to sustain that security. He said for now there are no plans for the multi-national forces to provide security for relief agencies or U.N. food distribution programs.

"You know, the key here is that we do not stretch our capabilities to the point where we are everywhere but not capable of doing the things that need to be done," he added.

Colonel Garganus said his forces are working closely with Haitian police to make sure demonstrations later Sunday in Port-au-Prince proceed peacefully. Demonstrators who support former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide are scheduled to march at about the same time as demonstrators who opposed Mr. Aristide and support his leaving the country.

Colonel Garganus said every effort will be made to ensure the two groups are kept apart. "Anytime there is a possibility that two opposing groups can clash in my business, yes, there is a concern," he said. "Is that a worry? No, it is not. Will we have the forces in places to ensure an absolutely quiet day? We will absolutely try to."

Thousands of pro-Aristide demonstrators turned out in force on Friday to protest the departure of Mr. Aristide, who in interviews since his departure has claimed he was forced to leave by the United States, a charge U.S. officials strongly deny.

Meanwhile, Haiti's seven-member "council of wise men" is reportedly close to selecting a candidate to replace Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, a close ally of Mr. Aristide. The new prime minister and the council will function as an interim government until elections can be held.