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Posted Thursday, August 16, 2007
In hiding, perhaps from the believed secured basement of a longtime friend, principal Haiti rebel leader, Philippe, denies drug allegations
By The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Three years ago, Guy Philippe, a pistol bulging from his waist, was riding high. He'd led a rebellion that ousted Haiti's elected president and declared that "the country is in my hands."

These days, Philippe is riding so low that no one can find him -- not Haitian police or the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which last month raided his house.

In an audio message distributed to radio stations from hiding, Philippe denied involvement in drug trafficking and accused the United States of trying to silence him for political reasons.

"Before, when they wanted to eliminate someone, they called him a communist. Now there are no more communists so you're either a terrorist or into drugs," said the 39-year-old who unsuccessfully ran for president last year.

The drug-trafficking accusations against Philippe are as murky as some of the chapters in his past.

In the 1990s, Philippe joined the Haitian army and went to military school in Ecuador. He has denied press reports that he was trained by U.S. Special Forces in Ecuador.

He returned to Haiti and became police chief of Cap Haitien, Haiti's second largest city, but was forced to leave the country in 2000 because of accusations he was plotting a coup.

Philippe then spent time in the Dominican Republic before re-crossing the border back into Haiti to join the uprising against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Philippe took over a motley band of rebels that captured Cap Haitien and threatened to move on Port-au-Prince, the capital.

Before Philippe's rebels reached the capital, Aristide was flown out of the country aboard a U.S.-supplied jet on February 29, 2004.

Philippe and his men triumphantly rolled into Port-au-Prince atop a convoy and occupied old army barracks next to Haiti's National Palace. The rebel leader proclaimed himself "military chief" and announced on local radio: "The country is in my hands."

But he later gave up his arms in deference to a U.N. peacekeeping force. His attempt to win power by democratic means was much less successful.

Last year, he ran for president but came in a distant ninth, receiving less than 2 percent of the vote.

Philippe's supporters have suggested the United States is trying to silence him, perhaps because he knows secrets about the 2004 revolt.

Aristide, living in exile in South Africa, says he didn't leave Haiti willingly and that the United States kidnapped him in a coup. Washington denies it.

Months ago, Philippe went on local radio and denounced several powerful Haitians who he said helped finance the rebellion. Some Haitians have speculated that those well-connected people are now using their influence to get him arrested.

On July 16, heavily armed U.S. and Haitian anti-drug agents raided Philippe's yellow, two-story home in Haiti's remote southern peninsula, but found only his family and a maid.

Neither Haitian nor U.S. officials will publicly acknowledge that they're looking for him.

"I know nothing about Guy Philippe or any case file relating to him," said national police spokesman Frantz Lerebours.

The DEA and U.S. attorney's office in Miami, Florida, have declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation.

The secrecy has fueled speculation about possible underlying motives to catch Philippe. But officials also are cracking down generally on reputed local drug kingpins, and there may be no ulterior motive.

DEA and Haitian anti-drug agents have arrested a hotel owner who is believed to have helped finance the 2004 revolt, and the president of a local soccer club. No charges have been announced. The arrests marked the first major crackdown against suspected traffickers since President Rene Preval was elected last year.

In his message from hiding, Philippe insisted that he lived a quiet life in the country after the 2004 rebellion, spending time with his family and playing pingpong, not trafficking drugs.

"If they have proof, let them bring it on," said Philippe, adding that he plans eventually to return to his rural home and "live like a simple peasant."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press

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