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Posted Tuesday, July 15, 2008
In long troubled Haiti, a rare peaceful end to ex-soldiers' brief standoff
By Pierre-Richard Luxama, Associated Press Writer                 
CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti - Former soldiers who had seized a building in northern Haiti changed out of their uniforms and peacefully filed out Wednesday, ending a tense standoff of nearly 24 hours after negotiations with government officials.

Former soldiers dressed in military uniforms walk in the back of a former prison in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, Wednesday, July 30, 2008. Former soldiers on Tuesday took over the former prison now being used as a music school to demand back-pay and reinstatement of the country's armed forces.(AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos) More Images

The protesters were seeking back wages and the reinstatement of the Haitian armed forces, which were disbanded by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1995.

U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police loaded the protesters onto two yellow school buses to take them out of the area.

Authorities released no details of the negotiations, which included Interior Minister Paul Antonine Bien-Aime and ex-Army Col. Jean-Claude Jeudi, who was not among the protesters. It was not immediately known what ended the protest or whether the government granted any concessions to the former soldiers.

The talks took place as U.N. peacekeepers in armored vehicles and Haitian police surrounded the former Cap-Hatien prison, which is now used as a music school.

U.N. police spokesman Fred Blaise said a second soldiers' protest in a former barracks in Ouanaminthe, a northern Haitian town on the border with the Dominican Republic, had ended as well.

An adviser to President Rene Preval, Patrick Elie, said the protest was "political manipulation" to keep pressure on Preval, who already this year has faced protesters trying to storm the national palace and the Senate's removal of his prime minister, who has not been replaced.

"I believe (the protest) is part of this campaign to put pressure on a government that it is at its weakest moment in some years," Elie told The Associated Press.

Sen. Youri Latortue, who has been pushing for the creation of a new Haitian army, said he has not given money or assistance to the ex-soldiers and that he did not support their tactics.

But he told the AP that he, and not Preval's administration, was best suited to deal with the soldiers and prevent an escalation of the protests.

"They trust that we in the Parliament, we fight to defend their rights," Latortue said.

The Senate was scheduled to vote Wednesday on the president's third nominee for prime minister, Michele Pierre-Louis. But the vote was again postponed because only 15 senators attended the vote, one less than needed for a quorum.

Preval held talks Tuesday with legislators over the inclusion of various political parties in Pierre-Louis' proposed Cabinet in an effort to ensure their approval of her appointment.

The 9,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force has provided the country's only real security force since the army was disbanded. ___ Associated Press writer Jonathan M. Katz contributed to this report from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
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