U.S. soldiers descended on Haiti Monday as peacekeepers, not invaders, meeting no resistance as they began their mission to restore the country's elected leadership.
Troops warily climbed off Cobra and Blackhawk helicopters that crossed from U.S. warships offshore and set down at the international airfield. The troops were the vanguard of an occupation force, which will enforce a last-minute agreement that averted an invasion of this impoverished nation.Under a cloudless blue sky, Maj. Gen. David Meade, commander of the army's 10th Mountain Division, told reporters on arrival, "We haven't seen any resistance and we haven't expected any."
Earlier Monday morning at first light, two U.S. warships and a Coast Guard cutter glided into port and secured the country's main harbor. An aircraft carrier shimmered in the mist on the horizon.
Gen. Henry Hugh Shelton, field commander of the Haiti operation and former head of the 82nd Airborne division, arrived after the airfield was secured.
Shelton, easily distinguishable in a red beret under heavy U.S. guard, said nothing as he strode off to meet at the Haitian army headquarters with military leader Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras. Under the agreement reached late Sunday, Cedras is to relinquish power, but he has reneged on past deals.
President Clinton conceded Monday that the situation in the Caribbean nation "remains difficult, it remains uncertain." But he said he is hopeful that Haiti's military leaders will abide by the agreement that forced them to relinquish power.
"This mission will be limited in time and scope," Clinton said at a White House news conference with former President Jimmy Carter and other U.S. negotiators. "It is clearly designed to provide a secure environment after the restoration of democracy."
Many questions remained about the 11th hour agreement that avoided a U.S. invasion of Haiti, even as paratroopers were flying toward their destination.
Under the agreement, Cedras and other members of his military junta agreed to step down by Oct. 15, paving the way to restoring the democratically elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
In exchange for his cooperation in allowing U.S. forces to enter and oversee a peaceful transition of power, Cedras won a "general amnesty" for all members of the military and reprieve from having to step down immediately. But there was no requirement that Cedras leave Haiti.
Meanwhile in New York, the U.N. Security Council was to meet Monday afternoon to discuss lifting economic sanctions against Haiti that were imposed last year after Cedras went back on his word and refused to step down.
Heavily armed soldiers from the first wave of helicopters Monday dropped down on the tarmac at Port-au-Prince's international airport, aiming their automatic rifles outward. Moments later, they got up when Haitian commanders walked onto the airstrip to meet them.
By morning, Haitians in the port were going about their business. Women carried baskets of fruit and buckets of water on their heads, men pulled wooden carts. But there were many fewer people in the streets. Thousands had fled the capital, fearing a U.S.-led invasion or retaliation by army supporters.
Along a milelong stretch of shoreline in Carrefour, five miles west of the capital, hundreds of people stared out from the shore or their homes at the ships and watched as waves of the helicopters crossed overhead.
"We are very happy," said Levy Cadet, a restaurant security guard.
The accord, reached after Clinton ordered American paratroopers into the air, halted a land, sea and air assault scheduled for Monday.
In return, the pact calls for a lifting of the debilitating U.N. embargo that has made life on this poor Caribbean island even tougher.
Scattered gunfire broke out late Sunday after an American delegation headed by former Carter ended two days of marathon talks with Cedras and Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby, army chief of staff.
A third junta leader, the Port-au-Prince police chief, Lt. Col. Michel Francois, was not a party to the agreement. He has reportedly gone into "virtual hiding."
The military leaders who toppled Aristide on Sept. 30, 1991, backed down and agreed to let American forces enter the country peacefully to oversee the transfer of power. The military regime is to relinquish power by Oct. 15.
Haiti's 81-year-old president, Emile Jonassaint, went on television just before midnight to announce he had signed the accord and asked his "Haitian brothers" to maintain calm.
"You may go to sleep knowing that there will not be any invasion," said Jonassaint, who was installed by the military in May.
Local residents expressed uncertainty about what happens next in Haiti, an impoverished nation wracked by violence and with no tradition of democracy.
There has been no comment from Aristide, who has been living in exile in the United States since being driven from power after seven months in office.
The agreement did not name Aristide or say when he would return, a concern to his supporters in Haiti, who also worried about their security in the interim.
"The situation in Haiti remains difficult. It remains uncertain. The mission still has risks," Clinton said at the news conference.
"This is only Day One," said Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a member along with Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., of Carter's delegation. "There will be difficult times ahead, there may well be injuries or causalities. We cannot guarantee anything. But we are off to a good start, Mr. President."
The initial reaction to the agreement was relief that a military conflict had been avoided. But at the same time, questions were raised about whether Clinton had been too accommodating to Cedras in defusing the crisis.
Carter called the effort a success.
"We believe that the overriding result has been the avoidance of massive bloodshed and perhaps an extended period of occupation," he said.
"We have accomplished our goals as assigned to us by our president," the former Democratic president said.
Clinton, taking questions, acknowledged that public opinion polls showed very little support among Americans for an invasion of Haiti.
Clinton, appearing tired after the weekend ordeal, said in response to a question that he wasn't sure that Cedras or the other military leaders would leave the island.
"I cannot answer where they will wind up living," he said.
Nunn, the third member of the U.S. negotiating team, cautioned that Aristide's return does not guarantee democracy.
Some 61 U.S. planes bearing an invasion force of paratroopers were already in the air while Carter, Powell and Nunn were wrapping up the negotiations with Cedras.
Clinton said he was concerned about the safety of the U.S. team. "I said you have 30 more minutes and then I will have to order you to leave," Clinton said, recounting his phone conversation with Carter Sunday night. "The time was running out of the hourglass."