The gunmen pummeled the maid, kicked in the front door, pistol-whipped Yveline Nicolas and put a gun to her daughter's head, threatening to kill the child unless Nicolas gave them all her money.

She had just become the latest upper-class victim of a crime wave that has plagued Port-au-Prince ever since U.S.-led forces removed brutal army rulers from power in September.The presence of foreign troops and the restoration of the elected government has brought relief from political violence - army-backed gunmen no longer terrorize, rape and kill citizens. But the demise of dictatorship brought a rash of burglaries and murders, often attributed to the same gunmen looking for another way to make a living.

Unlike ever before, the once-protected wealthy have become prime targets.

"They beat me in the head with a revolver. They fired shots in the house," Nicolas, a 36-year-old bank employee, said of the Christmas Eve attack. "My daughter ran down in her nightshirt. They grabbed her and jerked off her earrings.

"I told them I had no money with me. They said if I didn't give it up they'd kill the child. They sat her on my bed and pointed the cocked gun to her forehead," Nicolas recalled, her voice trembling.

The five gunmen, backed up by about 10 lookouts outside, made off with Nicolas' purse and jewelry. Seven-year-old Tara, her shirt stained with her mother's blood, was unhurt but now refuses to sleep alone.

International Police Monitors, who observe and coach Haiti's interim police force of minimally trained former soldiers, have no data to confirm a rise in crime because no records were kept before.

But IPM chief Raymond Kelly, the former New York City police commissioner, says it's clear there's more crime since the removal of army rulers and the dismantling of the corrupt, repressive military and police.

The reasons are many.

Haiti's economy, shattered by three years of world sanctions, is still moribund and foreign aid won't start flowing in until spring.

The army has been slashed to 1,500 men. About 2,000 were made interim police, but that leaves 4,000 soldiers without jobs - gun owners accustomed to arbitrary rule and easy money. Soldiers also are known to sell weapons, and former police auxiliaries known as "attaches" are widely believed responsible for high-powered raids of rich homes and businesses.

Finally, lax security has led to three major prison escapes since October, and scores of convicted criminals remain at large.

Some of the more spectacular crimes in recent days include:

-A Dec. 26 raid at the army's anti-narcotics bureau. Gunmen stole 220 pounds of cocaine. Authorities suspect seven of the depot's army guards.

-Armed robbers burst into a downtown restaurant in early December, killing its prominent owner and wounding several customers.

-The three-story Sanyo Center electronics store, a high-profile business, was stripped and set on fire by a gang in mid-November.

-A Haitian soldier guarding a U.S. Embassy payroll truck Nov. 10 killed two embassy employees and wounded a third, making off with $54,000. Pvt. College Francois later was captured in a U.S.-orchestrated dragnet.

Trucks leaving the port with humanitarian aid are often hijacked, as are aid shipments in the countryside. Warehouses are plundered. Merchants complain of rampant burglaries at downtown businesses since September.

Until Haiti has a new permanent police, crime is likely to go unabated.

The 800 foreign monitors, accompanied by interim Haitian police, patrol streets in pickups. But they are thinly spread across Haiti, and their role is to monitor police, not be cops.