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3 avril 2004

- Simon Gardner

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, April 2 (Reuters) - It will be months before Haiti’s crippled police and judiciary will be ready to deal with rebels accused of rights abuses who still roam free weeks after a bloody rebellion, new Justice Minister Bernard Gousse said on Friday.

With the police force in disarray and court houses in ruins after the February ouster of ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti must first restore public order and rebuild its justice system before going after its public enemies, he said.

« The justice system is not very healthy... It will take some months to rebuild, » Gousse told Reuters in an interview at the rundown Ministry of Justice in downtown Port-au-Prince. « You can see the derelict situation in which the police is, the justice system, even the buildings. »

With figures like notorious former paramilitary leader Louis Jodel Chamblain, a convicted murderer who helped lead the bloody rebellion against Aristide, still holding sway in the north, Gousse says he had to tread a fine line.

Going after heavily armed rebels with depleted, ill-equipped police and the court system in disarray could « spark off the fire again », he warned.

Human rights groups have called on Haiti’s new government to arrest the likes of Chamblain and others accused of involvement in massacres. Some have also called for probes into alleged corruption by judges.

Residents in the grimy suburbs of Port-au-Prince meanwhile want a 3,600-strong U.N.-sanctioned multinational force to disarm marauding street gangs because police are unable to do so. Political reprisals are commonplace as people take the law into their own hands.

« Everything will come in due time. It is not that we have forgotten this issue (of human rights abuses), » Gousse said. « Chamblain’s issue will be dealt with in due time. »

« I have been urged that I have not arrested enough people, but I don’t want a judicial lynching. I want to respect due process, » he added.

The government has, however, gone after supporters of exiled Aristide, arresting a dozen of his associates and issuing a blacklist banning dozens more from leaving the country pending investigations of suspected graft.

Aristide, a former slum priest, was once a champion of Haiti’s democracy but had been increasingly accused of corruption and political thuggery.

Members of Aristide’s Lavalas Family party say they are the target of a government witch-hunt.

Former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune has gone underground after receiving death threats from rebels — many of whom the government plans to incorporate into the police.

The hardcore rebels are safe from justice for now.

« What is the most durable legacy, it’s not those symbolic trials, it’s to have a justice system working, » said Gousse.


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