In a new challenge to Haiti’s stability, uniformed commandos attacked police headquarters with grenades and automatic weapons Monday and sprayed the Legislative Palace with gunfire.
The assailants killed a shoeshine boy and wounded two police officers before police repulsed the attack and U.N. peacekeepers arrived to secure the scene. The 15-minute assault was the boldest yet in a campaign that President Rene Preval blames on former soldiers who want to destabilize Haiti’s fledgling democracy.
A U.N. spokesman initially said shots were also fired at the National Palace, where Preval works and lives, but later said it wasn’t clear if the palace was targeted.
Port-au-Prince police Chief JeanYonel Trecille said shots were fired “in the area” of the palace.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred shortly after midnight, but one radio station broadcast a statement by a group of former soldiers demanding the release of 20 ex-soldiers arrested over the weekend. The statement also called on Preval to resign.
Wearing the olive uniform of the former army and with bandanas masking their faces, an estimated 20 gunmen nearly overran police headquarters, underscoring the weakness of the new, internationally trained police force.
Although authorities initially said Canadian U.N. peacekeepers exchanged gunfire with the attackers, they later said the gunmen left just before peacekeepers arrived. There were no injuries to the foreign troops, said U.N. mission spokesman Eric Falt.
One wall of the Legislative Palace, less than a block from the U.S. Embassy, was pockmarked with bullet holes, Radio Haiti Inter reported.
“This was a serious incident, but it did not jeopardize in any way the stability of the government,” Falt said.
U.S. troops intervened in Haiti in September 1994 to restore democracy to this Caribbean nation and disband a military regime that took power in a bloody 1991 coup. Soldiers and their attaches killed as many as 4,000 Haitians during military rule.