Haitian ex-soldiers occupy former army buildings
Thursday, 31 July 2008

Port-au-Prince,July 30 (bdnews24.com/Reuters) - About 200 ex-soldiers occupied former military buildings in northern Haiti on Tuesday to demand the reinstatement of the disbanded army and 14 years of back pay, the group's leader and witnesses said.

The men took over the buildings in Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second largest city, and in Ouaminthes, a town on the border with the Dominican Republic.

A bloody rebellion of former soldiers and street gangs in 2004 led to the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who fled Haiti for exile in Africa.

Aristide disbanded the army in 1995, but former soldiers say that was illegal and have periodically demanded back pay.

"We are mobilized because we want the army back," Milot Laguerre, a former army officer who claimed to be the group's leader, told local radio. "The government has to pay our salaries and we want to provide security for the population."

The men who occupied the Cap-Haitien former army headquarters, now used as government offices, wore military-style uniforms but no weapons were seen, according to radio correspondents at the scene.

Those who took over the army building in Ouaminthes had pistols and clubs, the reporters said.

Eucher Luc Joseph, secretary of state for public safety, said the government would not long tolerate the takeover.

"When you have weapons and you occupy public buildings illegally, state authorities have the responsibility to dislodge you, by force if necessary," Joseph said. "It should be clear that such behavior will never be tolerated."

There was no sign that UN peacekeeping troops, who have been providing security in the impoverished Caribbean nation since shortly after Aristide's 2004 ouster, or the national police had intervened, radio reports said.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, has been struggling to establish democracy since the Duvalier family dictatorship was overthrown in the 1980s.

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