Ex-Haiti rebel leader arrested during live talk show

2017-01-06 09:20
Guy Philippe (File, AP)

Guy Philippe (File, AP)

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Port-au-Prince — A former rebel leader who is wanted on US drug charges and was recently elected to the Haitian Senate, was arrested on Thursday as he appeared on a live radio talk show, a witness said.

Guy Philippe was being interviewed live on the show with another recently elected lawmaker when the host abruptly announced that police were outside the studio in the Petionville district of the capital to arrest him. The host came back on air and said that authorities had taken him away.

Radio host Gary-Pierre Paul Charles later told The Associated Press the police were members of the Haitian anti-drug unit and fired shots into the air to disperse a crowd that had gathered.

"It was shocking. People were running everywhere," he told the AP.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration, which barely missed capturing him in a 2007 raid, had no immediate comment on the arrest and it wasn't clear whether he was going to be extradited. Authorities in Haiti and Philippe's lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment.

Police at the station where Philippe is believed to have been taken declined to speak to journalists who gathered outside.

A photo being circulated on social media in Haiti appeared to show Philippe in a white dress shirt being led out of the studio by police. Another image showed him apparently handcuffed in a room while police in camouflage uniforms stood guard with assault rifles.

In the southern Haitian city of Jeremie, about 200 protesters carried photos of Philippe and called for his release, threatening to set fires if he remained in custody.

Philippe, who has a wife and two children in the US, recently won election to the Senate representing a district in southern Haiti but had not yet taken office. He was to be sworn in on February 6.

He is wanted on drug-trafficking charges including conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States. The indictment charging him is sealed and federal prosecutors have declined to discuss it.

In Haiti, he is a divisive figure who was one of the leaders of a violent 2004 rebellion that led to the ouster of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Willing to die for the cause

Philippe has spent most of his time in recent years in a remote, mountainous part of southern Haiti, where he had extensive family and business connections and it would have been difficult for authorities to locate and arrest him. Still, he would frequently appear in public and gave an extensive interview to the AP for an August 2016 profile.

In that interview, he insisted that he is innocent of any crimes, blaming the accusations on enemies trying to silence him. "The path I chose, the way I chose, is not easy. But I chose it and I'm willing to die for it," he said at the time.

In 2000, he was police chief of the northern city of Cap-Haitien, the country's second-largest city, when he fled to the neighbouring Dominican Republic after accusations he was plotting a coup. While in exile, he was accused of masterminding attacks on Haitian police stations and other targets.

He returned in 2004 to join the uprising against Aristide, taking over a band of rebels that captured Cap-Haitien. Aristide left the country aboard a US-supplied jet before Philippe's rebels reached the capital.

After rolling triumphantly into Port-au-Prince, Philippe proclaimed himself "military chief." But he gave up his arms as a UN stabilisation force geared up.

He ran for president in 2006, finishing a distant ninth. A year later, heavily armed US and Haitian anti-drug agents raided his home in Les Cayes but found only his family and a maid. US agents came in several Black Hawk helicopters. 

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