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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 February, 2004, 16:59 GMT
Haiti calls for foreign troops
Rebels sit by sacks of food in Gonaives
The rebels have cut off key supply routes to the north
Haitian Prime Minister Yvon Neptune has made a renewed call for international troops to be sent to the country to help tackle the violence there.

Mr Neptune said it was the duty of the international community to confront what he called armed drug-traffickers.

His comments came hours after US Secretary of State Colin Powell ruled out sending troops to Haiti.

Armed rebels have taken control of large parts of northern Haiti, and more than 50 people have been killed.

The rebels, who are demanding the resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, have said they will take their revolt all the way to the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince.

They have cut off key supply routes to the north, undermining President Aristide's control of large areas of the impoverished nation.

The rebels are reported to be in control of most roads leading into the main food-producing region, the Artibonite.

Peace force?

Mr Neptune, speaking to journalists, said: "When the national police are confronted with drug-traffickers who are armed, with arms-traffickers who invent all sorts of political pretexts for their actions and for sowing death and destruction, it is the duty of the international community to get involved."

Mr Powell says the US has "no enthusiasm" for sending in troops to quell the unrest.

He said the priority was to find a political solution based on an initiative by the Caricom group of Caribbean nations.

But France, the former colonial power, has said it is ready to consider sending a peacekeeping force to Haiti.

In the latest outbreak of violence, the rebels - mostly former soldiers and vigilantes - expelled police from the town of Hinche after killing the police chief, while looters have ransacked the burnt-out police station.

The BBC's Ben Brown reports that the rebels, who were welcomed by locals, later pulled back from the town centre.

Food aid

Tension is mounting in Haiti's second city, Cap-Haitien, where supporters of President Aristide have erected barricades, the Associated Press reports.

If Haiti cannot solve its own problems, no international involvement will help
Jeff, Springfield, VA, USA

In rebel-held Gonaives, rebels fired shots in the air to prevent crowds of hungry residents from seizing lorries loaded with lentils and millet delivered by the aid agency Care, AP said.

It was the first food shipment to reach Gonaives since it fell to the rebels in early February.

About one-third of Haiti's children are malnourished and many adults earn no more than $1 a day.

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, 16 Feb 2004
Aristide: First election in 1990 signalled hope for many
Haiti's neighbours have been urged to take in those fleeing the unrest, but the Dominican Republic has already closed the border.

Mr Aristide - a former priest who was restored to power with foreign help in 1994 - is accused of having rigged the 2000 elections.

Anti-government protests escalated in late 2003 and have turned increasingly violent.

The BBC's Claire Marshall
"This carribean nation is collapsing into chaos"

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