Coup Attempt By Rebel Officers Foiled, Avril Speaks To Nation
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ The government said it foiled an attempt Sunday to overthrow Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril, and U.S. officials said loyal troops apparently rescued Avril as he was being driven away to be deported.
Avril told the nation early Monday in a televised address that rebel soldiers ″blinded by their exorbitant ambition″ attempted to overthrow his government and appealed to Haitians to support his leadership.
He did not provide details of attempted coup or say how it was foiled. There were no reports of casualties.
A government communique read earlier over state-run television said ″certain officers besieged″ the presidential palace ″and attempted to overthrow the government.″
Presidential guardsmen told journalists Avril was taken captive at his mansion in Canape Verte, a wealthy neighborhood in the hills overlooking the capital, as he returned home from a party early Sunday.
Sources said four military officers had tried to overthrow Avril, who assumed power six months ago in this impoverished Caribbean country’s second coup in less than a year.
In his 10-minute speech, Avril said: ″At a time when the government is doing its utmost to ensure democratic progress and economic recovery, once again the stability of the Haitian nation was threatened.″
He was flanked by at least a dozen soldiers dressed in battle gear, including Sgt. Major Joseph Heubreux, who led the coup by noncommissioned officers who put Avril in power last September.
″On the night of April 1 and 2, some members of the armed forces blinded by their exorbitant ambitions attempted to overthrow the government which I assumed Sept. 17 1988 as commander and chief of the armed forces and president of the military government,″ Avril said.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Susan Clyde said earlier that reports indicated the coup attempt occurred about 4 a.m. and that Avril was detained for a time.
″But it appears that when he was being taken to the airport to be deported ... members of the presidential guard arrived at the airport and escorted him back to the palace to be president again,″ she said in a telephone interview.
She said the attempted coup was ″totally bloodless.″
However, Radio Liberte quoted an unidentified soldier as Port-au-Prince would be ″set on fire″ unless the government released one of the alleged coup leaders, identified by the soldier as Lt. Col. Himmler Rebu, commander of the Leopards battalion commando unit.
Military sources said Rebu was under military guard at the National Palace.
Loyal soldiers told journalists that Avril’s wife, Marie-Ange, and her mother were taken captive with Avril but released a couple hours later.
They also said two of Avril’s brothers and Interior Minister Col. Acedius St. Louis and his son were seized by the rebels.
Avril’s son, brothers and St. Louis and his son reportedly were freed after two tanks rolled into the Leopards’ barracks and negotiated their release Sunday night. There were no reports of casualties.
Initial reports had said the army commander, Maj. Gen. Herard Abraham, was among the coup leaders. But later accounts said that was not correct and that the plot collapsed when Abraham refused the rebels’ offer of the presidency.
Abraham was foreign minister under the government of Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, who Avril replaced.
The attempt came four days after the discharge of four top army officers accused of drug trafficking.
Unconfirmed reports said four army officers planned the coup, including Gen. Guy Francois, commander of the Dessalines barracks in Port-au-Prince, which is the base of the most feared unit in Haiti’s 7,000-man army. The reports said all four officers had been detained, but there was no confirmation.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Dennis Harter said the situation in Haiti ″remains fluid.″
Haiti’s international airport was closed and large numbers of soldiers were at the palace and on the streets, which were calm.
Gunfire was heard twice near the palace in the pre-dawn hours. Several hours later there was another spurt of gunfire in the same area.
Five soldiers of the Presidential Guard arrived at independent radio station Liberte at 11:45 a.m. and read a statement denying Avril was ousted.
″There has not been any visible reaction from the people,″ Ms. Clyde said. ″The streets are very calm. People are going about their business as usual.″
Richard Melton, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Caribbean affairs, visited Haiti last Monday and told Avril resumption of U.S. aid depended in part on Haiti’s efforts to crack down on the narcotics trade.
On Wednesday, four top army officers accused of involvement in the drug trade were discharged.
Hubert de Ronceray, a conservative political leader, said those dismissals might have triggered the coup attempt.
Leslie Manigat, Haiti’s last civilian president, was elected in violence- marred elections in January 1988. He replaced a junta led by Namphy that had governed since dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier fled to exile in France in 1986, ending a 29-year family dictatorship.
Namphy then overthrew Manigat in a coup June 20, 1988. On Sept. 17, Avril came to power in a coup.
Two weeks ago, Avril partly restored constitutional rights suspended in 1987. He also appointed a mostly civilian Cabinet and agreed to the establishment of an electoral council to prepare for free elections.
But there was widespread dissatisfaction over the pace of his reforms, and human rights groups accused the government of continuing repression.