PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- This country's US-backed advisory council picked a former foreign minister as the new prime minister yesterday, a step toward forming a transitional government in this troubled nation.
Gerard Latortue's appointment was made as US Marines said they would help Haitian police disarm the general population. The new program, set to begin later this week, will appeal to rebel groups and supporters of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide who have demanded weapons be taken away from their enemies.
Efforts to bring calm to this Caribbean nation followed a bloody insurgency that ousted Aristide on Feb. 29, put rebels in control of half the country and sparked a frenzy of looting and violence. At least 130 people were killed in the rebellion; reprisal killings since Aristide's ouster have left at least 300 dead.
Unrest hit the capital again yesterday as Aristide loyalists set up flaming barricades and stoned cars. There were no immediate reports of serious injury.
After five days of private meetings, the seven-member Council of Sages settled on Latortue, also a former UN official and an international business consultant. Now Latortue and interim President Boniface Alexandre will try to work toward organizing elections and building a new government.
Latortue, who will replace Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, told Reuters that he would work to disarm the country, which has been racked by violence, and bring his divided people together.
"I hope at least I will create a country to which most Haitians will want to return, including myself," he told the news agency said from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. He was expected in Port-au-Prince today or tomorrow.
Neptune stayed in his post even after Aristide fled the country Feb. 29. Aristide opponents have demanded that Neptune be replaced.
Also yesterday, CIA Director George J. Tenet warned that in Haiti, "a humanitarian disaster or mass migration remains possible."
"A cycle of clashes and revenge killings could easily be set off, given the large number of angry, well-armed people on both sides," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Improving security will require the difficult task of disarming armed groups and augmenting and retraining a national security force."
Aristide, meanwhile, has insisted from exile in Africa that he is still president of Haiti, saying he was removed from office by the US government.
State Department officials have denied that allegation. But the 53-nation African Union and the 15-nation Caribbean Community have said they are investigating.
Ira Kurzban, a Miami-based lawyer for Aristide, said that he has called on US Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to investigate.
"The kidnapping by the US was part of a coup d'etat," Kurzban said.
In an interview Monday with National Public Radio, Powell again denied that Washington forced out Aristide, saying US troops saved his life.
Aristide "contacted our ambassador," Powell said, "and our ambassador made appropriate arrangements so that he could leave safely, which many people said we should make sure would happen -- that nothing would happen to him. And he left of his own free will."
Earlier, at a news conference in Port-au-Prince, Colonel Charles Gurganus said the joint disarmament program would begin today. He also called on Haitians to turn in any arms and to inform peacekeepers who has weapons.
"The disarmament will be both active and reactive, but I'm not going to say any more about that," he said, giving few details of how the program will work.
Since the US and French-led peacekeepers arrived a week ago, there has been confusion over who is in charge of disarming groups. On Monday, Gurganus said disarming rebels was not part of the peacekeepers' mission, but he indicated that could change if police asked for help.
Both Aristide loyalists and opponents have threatened violence if weapons are not taken away from their enemies.
US forces in Haiti, about 1,600 strong, have a limited set of circumstances during which they can use deadly force. They cannot stop looting, even of American companies. Nor can they stop Haitian-on-Haitian violence, officials said.
Their mission is to protect key sites, like government buildings and the airport, to pave the way for an eventual UN peacekeeping force.
Yet they find themselves getting dragged into policing the troubled nation, which is deeply divided among various rebel groups and militant Aristide supporters.
US Marines started arriving Feb. 29, the day Aristide left. There are also 800 French Legionnaires and police, 130 Chilean troops and 70 Canadians as of Tuesday.
In the worst violence since Aristide left, gunmen opened fire on anti-Aristide protesters Sunday, killing six people and wounding more than 30. US Marines said they killed one gunman.
Late Monday, Marines shot and killed the driver of a car speeding toward a checkpoint. A passenger was wounded.
In Washington, the US Defense Department defended the Marines, saying they acted within their orders to fire when they felt threatened.