INTERNATIONAL

Rebel leader threatens to arrest PM

PORT-AU-PRINCE (HAITI), MARCH 3. Rebels began patrolling the streets of the capital as their leader, Guy Philippe, declared himself the new chief of Haiti's military and threatened to arrest the country's Prime Minister. U.S. Marines barely ventured out of the city's airport. ``The country is in my hands!'' Mr. Philippe announced on Tuesday on the radio in between touring the city in the back of a pickup truck and greeting throngs of admiring Haitians.

The U.S. Marine Col. Dave Berger told a news conference that the Marines, who began arriving on Sunday night hours after Mr. Aristide left the country for exile in Africa, will increase their presence throughout Haiti following Mr. Philippe's comments.

Two U.S. Chinook helicopters slowly circled over Mr. Philippe's base, the rebel-held northern port of Cap-Haitien, on an apparent reconnaissance mission, said a resident reached by telephone. Some U.S. Marines patrolled Port-au-Prince's seaport, which was being looted.

The U.S. and French troops in Haiti, the vanguard of an international peacekeeping force authorised by the U.N. Security Council, have no orders to disarm Haiti's factions and instead are to secure key sites. The U.S. Government sternly rejected bids for power by rebels in Haiti and insisted they lay down their arms and permit an orderly transfer of power from Mr. Aristide.

Rejecting Mr. Philippe's declaration that he was the new chief of Haiti's military, the Assistant Secretary of State, Roger Noriega, said ``He is not in control of anything but a ragtag band of people.''

Faced with an international build-up in the troubled Caribbean country, Mr. Philippe ``will probably want to make himself scarce,'' Mr. Noriega told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But the civil rights activist, Jesse Jackson, said the rebel leader was a U.S. ally in preparing for Mr. Aristide's ouster and it was ironic to oppose him now. Mr. Jackson said Mr. Aristide and his wife, Mildred, have a right to asylum in the United States, where they have relatives.

Despite the turmoil, top Bush administration officials said they had no second thoughts about the U.S. role in enabling Mr. Aristide to leave the country that had elected him President in 2000. ``I am happy he is gone,'' the U.S. Vice-President, Dick Cheney, told CNN television. ``I think the Haitian people are better off for it.''

Mr. Aristide's resignation letter said he was leaving ``in order to avoid a bloodbath,'' according to an English translation from Creole.

AP