Dozens of former soldiers and several alleged supporters have been arrested in Haiti following a series of protests calling for the Caribbean nation’s disbanded army to be restored.
Several thousand ex-soldiers staged demonstrations on Friday and Saturday calling on President Michel Martelly to honor his promise to revive the army, which was dismantled in 1995 after staging numerous coups and committing human rights abuses over the years.
On Sunday the authorities said 59 people had been detained and charged with forming a rogue army and violating governmental orders to take off their military uniforms and lay down their arms, according to Reuters.
“They were parading outside the presidential palace in olive green military uniform and some were carrying weapons,” a police official told the news agency.
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Two US citizens – alleged to have provided “logistical support” during the marches – were also arrested over the weekend and charged with conspiracy, Haiti’s Secretary of State for Public Security said Sunday.
Jason William Petrie, 39, from Ohio, and Steven Parker Shaw, 57, from Massachusetts, are accused of having acted as drivers for a group of ex-soldiers and their followers during a march on Friday.
Petrie told the Associated Press from prison that he had been arrested because he knew the leaders of the group of ex-soldiers and described them as friends. Shaw said he was merely helping Petrie.
According to the BBC, ex-troops have been training in recent weeks in Haiti and have occupied former army bases, wearing military-style uniforms and brandishing weapons.
President Martelly wants to revive Haiti’s army on the grounds that Haitians would prefer to be protected by their own forces rather than the current UN peacekeepers, but the UN and international donors fear such a move could undermine efforts to establish a new civilian police force in the country.
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