Rights groups say Haiti prison riot a massacre
By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Haitian police killed dozens of prisoners last week and carted out bodies in wheelbarrows during a riot that turned into a massacre, according to a human rights group and one witness.
The toll differs from Haitian police who say eight inmates were killed. It also puts the spotlight on police whom U.N. officials are already probing for the deaths in October of up to 13 supporters of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Police said inmates were killed after attacking guards at the national penitentiary in Port-au-Prince on Dec. 1, when prisoners rioted over prolonged detention without being taken before a judge and an imminent transfer to another prison.
One prisoner who witnessed the riot said up to 60 inmates may have been killed by police that day.
"I saw about 15 bodies where I was, but the dead could total 60. I saw the police transporting from the prison loads of bodies in wheelbarrows," Ted Nazaire, a 24-year-old prisoner released a day after the riot and who is now in hiding, told Reuters.
The Committee for the Protection of the Haitian People's Rights, a rights group, said dozens of people were killed.
Another rights group, The Lawyers Committee for Individual Rights, (CARLI), said "many more" people had been killed than police reported. The group did not give exact figures.
"The killing of the prisoners cannot be justified and those in charge of their security should be held responsible," said CARLI head Renan Hedouville. "It's a massacre."
The penitentiary houses about 1,070 prisoners, including supporters of Aristide, who was forced into exile in February following a bloody
rebellion and pressure from the United States and France.
The impoverished Caribbean nation has been in turmoil since the start of the year. Rebels took over large parts of the country before Aristide's departure. A U.N. peacekeeping force was sent after Aristide left to stabilize Haiti.
Aristide supporters have complained that Haiti's U.S.-backed interim government, installed after Aristide's departure and led by Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, has rounded up and jailed hundreds of Aristide allies without charges.
Latortue said on Wednesday that an independent probe into the deaths would be launched.
"We have to know the truth. We don't need to hide it, because we know in many countries police are capable of wrongdoing," said Latortue, who did not confirm or deny the allegation that several dozen prisoners had been killed.
Police showed reporters machetes, blades, knives and other weapons that were seized during a cell search on the day
of the riot. Several police officers were hurt in the melee.
Nazaire denied police reports that some prisoners were killed by other inmates. "The police killed the prisoners because of their opposition to their transfer and the detention conditions," he said.
A lawyer defending several Aristide allies, Reynold George, said those killed were political militants who came from the pro-Aristide slums.
"There is a plan to kill several other political prisoners from Aristide's party," he said.