Haitian military on comeback trail

Thu Mar 1, 2012 8:30am EST
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By Joseph Guyler Delva

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - For two weeks, an armed band of former Haitian soldiers has occupied an old military camp in the capital where they carry out military training in defiance of the government.

"We took control of something that is ours. No one can force us to leave this place," said David Dorme, the leader of the group and a former army sergeant, even though Haiti's army was disbanded in disgrace almost two decades ago.

The irregular camp and others that have sprung up in different parts of the country are the latest manifestations of a push to revive Haiti's army, which was long considered one of the most reprehensible in the Western hemisphere, responsible for decades of human rights abuses and corruption, as well as a bloody military coup in 1991.

The former soldiers have ignored appeals by President Michel Martelly to put down their weapons and leave the Lamentin camp, where men brandishing assault rifles and handguns proudly proclaim they are defending the nation's constitutional right.

That may be in large part because Martelly has himself declared the reconstitution of the army a central goal of his government, much to the chagrin of Western governments who believe Haiti has far greater priorities in the wake of a devastating earthquake two years ago.

Martelly is under mounting international pressure to take tougher action to evict and disarm the would-be soldiers before they grow any bolder and pose a threat to political stability.

"We expect ... concrete actions to put an end to this ad hoc process of regrouping, which is an unnecessary provocation," the head of the U.N. mission in Haiti, Mariano Fernandez, declared in an official statement last week.

The United Nations and major financial donors to Haiti's earthquake recovery question the country's need for an army, arguing that Haiti faces no external threats. Then there's the question of money, and how Haiti could possibly afford to assume the cost of arming and training even a small army.   Continued...

Soldiers from the Armed Forces of Haiti (FAd'H) train in Port-au-Prince October 31, 2011. Haiti's president plans to officially reinstate the country's armed forces, which was disbanded in 1995 .   REUTERS/Swoan Parker