PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Enraged supporters of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide armed themselves with machetes, guns, rocks, and bottles and roamed a downtown slum, threatening to behead foreigners after UN peacekeepers and Haitian police arrested dozens yesterday.
As gunfire crackled and two helicopters roared overhead, peacekeepers in armored personnel carriers moved into Bel Air, trying to put down a campaign by Aristide loyalists who have carried out gory beheadings in imitation of Iraqi insurgents.
Yesterday morning, the headless body of a man lay in the street in La Salines, a seaside slum. Last week, three police officers were decapitated when Aristide supporters stepped up protests demanding his return from exile in South Africa.
At least 19 people have been killed in Port-au-Prince. Relief workers say the violence could paralyze attempts to feed tens of thousands of people in Gonaives, which was devastated by Tropical Storm Jeanne last month.
Aristide loyalists had sealed off Bel Air, a warren of concrete homes overlooking the National Palace in Port-au-Prince. UN troops and Haitian police surrounded the district yesterday, searching cars and people at checkpoints near torched cars residents use to keep them out.
Police director Renan Etienne said they detained some 500 people for questioning during the Bel Air sweep, but found no weapons.
On Tuesday, a dozen young men and children in Bel Air shot a man and tried unsuccessfully to hack off his head, said Ninger Napoleon, a reporter for Radio Antilles. The troops and police withdrew from Bel Air yesterday morning, leaving deserted streets to men and boys armed with machetes, guns, knives, bottles and stones.
Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue accused pro-Aristide street gangs of instigating the violence. Aristide supporters say the police started it by firing at unarmed protesters.
"This threatens to paralyze all the humanitarian efforts we have in Gonaives," said Anne Poulsen of the UN World Food Program.
She said the unrest had scared away workers from the port city, stranding 2,430 tons of food there. The government has 3,000 ill-equipped officers to police a country of 8 million, and the Brazilian-led UN force has 3,000 troops.
Some 750 peacekeepers are protecting relief for storm victims in Gonaives. At least 1,870 Haitians were killed by Jeanne.