PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A few dozen gunmen wearing green uniforms attacked a police station in Haiti’s southern peninsula before dawn Monday, killing an officer and wounding at least two others before fleeing.
The Haitian National Police said some of the assailants tried to escape in a white van that swerved off a road and tumbled into a ravine, killing three of the attackers. Four men survived and were captured. One gunman died in a shootout with officers at the station.
Octave Jean, chief police inspector in coastal Les Cayes, said there were as many as 50 attackers wearing camouflage or faded green uniforms that appeared to be from Haiti’s long disbanded military.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the gunmen were demobilized soldiers.
Jean said the assailants ransacked the Les Cayes police station, stole guns and “tortured” officers. One of the wounded police officers was taken for emergency treatment in Port-au-Prince, the capital about 100 miles (160 kilometers) away.
“We were caught off guard but this will not happen again,” Jean said from Les Cayes. “We have control of the situation now and our investigation is under way.”
Jean and a police official in Haiti’s capital gave only the broadest outline of the probe.
One of the captured men told local reporters in Les Cayes that Senate candidate Guy Philippe, an ex-paramilitary who helped lead an uprising against then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, was behind the attack.
Phone calls to Philippe at his remote enclave in southwestern Haiti went unanswered.
There have been a number of recent disturbances by ex-Haitian soldiers and their younger supporters that appear designed to ramp up tensions amid an electoral impasse. But Monday’s violence shook many Haitians.
“What are they trying to do? Start a war?” said furniture seller Davidson Jean-Destin.
Calls to a spokesman for Haiti’s military veterans went unanswered.
In early February, a band of former soldiers clashed with a far larger gathering of anti-government demonstrators in Port-au-Prince, resulting in the mob killing of one of the ex-soldiers. The former soldiers wore faded green uniforms and carried rifles and pistols.
Earlier this month, a group of mostly young men wearing boots and green uniforms blocked an entrance to Haiti’s defense ministry to demand work protecting the border.
Haiti’s military was abolished in 1995 under Aristide because of its history of toppling governments and crushing dissent. Small groups of veterans have complained that they are owed money in pensions and lost wages.
Former President Michel Martelly, who left office in February to pave the way for an interim government in the absence of elections, repeatedly pledged to revive the military to protect Haiti’s land border, coast and few remaining forests. His preferred successor, Jovenel Moise, also supports that plan.
It would require a vote by Parliament to officially reconstitute the military.
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