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Ex-soldiers in Haiti get back pay, refuse to disarm
The U.S.-appointed interim Haitian government restarted a nationwide program of cash payments to former members of the disbanded Haitian Army this month, despite international criticism that the demobilized soldiers have no legal claim to demand monetary payments and human rights reports blaming the former soldiers for gross violations of human rights, including the mass rape of women in the popular neighborhoods.
In 2004, Gerald Latortue, a businessman of Haitian descent who lives in Baca Raton, Florida, was appointed Haiti's prime minister after a coalition of drug traffickers, thugs and demobilized soldiers overthrew the democratically elected government of Jean Bertrand Aristide in a bloody U.S.-backed coup.
The soldiers, who were dismissed when Aristide disbanded the Haitian Army in 1995 because of its involvement in rampant human rights abuses against the Haitian people, demanded millions in "back pay" for paychecks they would have received had Aristide not dispersed the army nine years before. Latortue readily acquiesced to the former soldiers demands.
Payments totaling 200 million gourdes - about $7,000,000 in U.S. dollars - were made in late 2004 and early 2005 but stopped when the government failed to follow through on promises to release more funds, says former Colonel Jean Claude Jeudy, who coordinates the Demobilized Soldiers Management Office.
Last month, Jeudy announced that a second block of 39 million gourdes ($1,300,000), was released by Latortue to make payments to 962 former soldiers. An additional 81 million gourdes ($2,700,000) will be released to pay former officers, says Jeudy, some of whom have been accused by international human rights observers of persecuting and killing members of the pro-democracy movement. Jeudy says he estimates that a total of 1,826,000,000 gourdes ($60,860,000) will eventually be paid to demobilized soldiers.
Activists say they are angry about Latortue's plan. "While hardworking Haitians starve or die of preventable diseases, the government is paying soldiers from a non-existent army for not having worked," says human rights attorney Brian Concannon who directs the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.
"Even worse, some on the payroll are convicted murders," says Concannon.
Some of the ex-solider funds are coming directly from the United States. Unlike other countries, whose demobilized soldiers are required to participate in reintegration programs conducted by USAID's Office of Transitional Assistance as a prerequisite for receiving cash payments, no such programs are being offered for ex-combatants in Haiti, according to USAID press officer Jessica Garcia. Garcia said that the agency had no comment on Latortue's decision restarting payments to former soldiers.
The United Nations contributed $2.8 million to help pay the ex-soldiers. However, despite their willingness to accept the indemnity they were offered, the former soldiers refused to disarm, said U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.
"Payments (to demobilized soldiers) should be linked to disarmament and entry into a comprehensive disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program," Annan said.