The commander of U.S. land forces in Haiti declared the former Haitian military all but dead Friday as lawmakers prepared to deliver the final blow by outlawing army-backed militias.
"Not very much remains" of the Haitian armed forces, said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. David C. Meade. He did not have the specific number of Haitian soldiers or police still in the country, but said many had fled abroad or are in hiding.
"If their behavior had not been so onerous, and so feared, their fall from grace would be pitiful, because there's not much left to them," Meade said.
Haiti's Senate adopted legislation Wednesday outlawing the paramilitary bands that terrorized Haitians under military rule after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's ouster. The bill still needs lower house approval, which is expected soon.
Aristide has announced plans to reduce the size of Haiti's army to 1,500 troops. There were 7,450 soldiers in the army of the former military leader, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, now in exile in Panama, and an estimated 60,000 paramilitary troops.
As work continued Friday on clearing out the last remnants of the former military regime, Aristide, who returned to office Saturday, worked on putting together a new government.
In a shift, Aristide consulted allies and opposition parties about government appointments. During his seven months in office before a September 1991 coup, he antagonized many politicians by appointing a close-knit group of supporters, many of them inexperienced.
A source close to Aristide said he has chosen a prime minister but wanted to make sure the selection would be acceptable to all sides.
The front-runner is Claudette Werleigh, Aristide's foreign minister and social affairs minister during a brief civilian caretaker government that preceded his government. She would replace Prime Minister Robert Malval.
Some supporters have expressed concern that Aristide still hasn't formed a government. Much else remains to be done, including revamping Haiti's inefficient justice system and preparing legislative elections scheduled for later this year.
The U.S. military has encouraged Haitian police to resume patrolling and crime-fighting despite civilian hostility because of the authorities' oppressive role in the old military regime.
In addition, international monitors are training Haitian refugees recruited at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to be part of an interim police force.