PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Haiti’s justice minister said Friday that he has ordered an investigation into reports that police had executed 17 civilians in two slums.
Justice Minister Bernard Gousse said he ordered the investigation Thursday, the same day four young men were found shot to death in Bel Air, a slum stronghold of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Witnesses also said 13 were executed Tuesday in the Port-au-Prince slum Fort National by men who appeared to be police.
“I know that there was no official police operation,” Gousse said. “But I am not ruling out the possibility that rogue policemen may have done their own thing.”
Witnesses said in the Tuesday killings the attackers wore black hoods, masks and helmets, the typical uniform of the Haitian riot police squad. They also said the men used a blue pickup truck like those used by police and a white Nissan Patrol like those driven by Haitian senators, without license plates.
“I want every case of possible police brutality investigated because I along with the prime minister and the president am against terrorism in any form,” Gousse said. “We will not tolerate terrorism within the police.”
Thursday’s killings brought to at least 79 the number killed in a month of violence in Haiti’s capital. The four young men were found shot in the back of the head in Bel Air, a slum overlooking the National Palace.
Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue on Thursday suggested the attackers were agents of Aristide. He has accused Aristide of orchestrating violence from exile in South Africa to try to destabilize the interim government, which plans elections next year.
Aristide has denied involvement and accused the United States of orchestrating his ouster, a charge the U.S. government denies.
It’s also feasible the attackers could be ex-soldiers from the army Aristide disbanded in 1995. They were among rebels who helped oust Aristide and have refused to disarm.
Police said one officer also was wounded in shootings that broke out Thursday between police and militant Aristide supporters.
The latest violence started Sept. 30, when police reportedly fired on protesters demanding Aristide’s return, killing two. The beheaded bodies of three police were found the next day.
The bloodshed is drawing international concern. Foreign Minister Rudy Insanally of Guyana said Friday that due to the violence and allegations of political persecution, leaders of the 15-member Caribbean Community should think twice about re-establishing ties with Haiti frozen since shortly after Aristide’s Feb. 29 ouster.
Caribbean leaders will have to “go back to the drawing board” when they meet in Trinidad next month, Insanally said. Even some countries that had voted to reintegrate Haiti into the 15-member bloc are “now concerned about the security situation …”