France is considering sending peacekeeping troops to Haiti as violence on the Caribbean island continues to spread.
Dominique De Villepin, the French Foreign Minister, said that troops are in position to rapidly deploy to Haiti and a large number of other countries were also ready to act.
He added: “We are in touch with all our partners within the framework of the United Nations, who have sent a humanitarian mission to see what can be done.
“We have important assets close to Haiti… we have skills in the field of humanitarian interventions,” he said.
“That is what we want to make available when the time comes.”
Francophone Haiti is a former French colony and is in the midst of a 11-day rebellion against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
The President refused yesterday to discuss strategies for halting the revolt or say whether he was asking for military assistance.
“A group of terrorists are breaking democratic order,” Mr Aristide said.
“We have the responsibility to use the law and dialogue to take a peaceful way to quell the uprising that has blocked food, fuel and medical shipments to northern Haiti.”
But Mr Aristide has asked for “technical assistance” from the Organisation of American States. “It may be that the police cannot cope with this kind of attack.”
Neighboring Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti and fears an exodus of refugees, appealed for urgent international intervention.
Frank Guerrero Prats, the secretary of foreign relations, called Monday for the international community to “act with urgency to combat a worsening situation that could be detrimental for the entire region”.
The Dominican authorities yesterday suspended an open-air border market frequented by hundreds of Haitians and Dominicans because of tensions over the mysterious killings of two Dominican soldiers a week ago.
Former soldiers took Haiti’s rebellion to the key central city of Hinche yesterday, torching the police station and freeing prisoners.
Rebels now control most roads leading in and out of the Artibonite, Haiti’s breadbasket and home to almost 1 million people, and have cut off northern Haiti by chasing police from a dozen towns.
Witnesses said that about 50 rebels descended on the station in Hinche yesterday and killed three officers before the police fled the city of 50,000.
Hinche is about 70 miles northeast of Port-au-Prince, the capital.
They said the rebels were led by Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a former soldier who led the feared paramilitary group FRAPH, the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, which killed and maimed hundreds of Aristide supporters under military dictatorship between 1991 and 1994.
It is believed there are no more than 100 rebels in Gonaives, where the rebellion to oust Mr Aristide started on February 5. But they repelled a police attack to retake the city last week in fighting that killed 30 people, mostly officers, according to the Haitian Red Cross.
At least 56 people have died as the revolt has spread from Gonaives, about 70 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince.
Reprisal killings and torching of homes continue in both rebel-held and police-held areas. On Sunday night, Mr Aristide loyalists reportedly killed two anti-government supporters in the port town of St. Marc.
Mr Aristide, a slum priest who preached revolution to Haiti’s poor, swept the 1990 elections to become the country’s first freely-elected leader. He was ousted in a coup in 1991, restored when the United States sent 20,000 troops to Haiti in 1994.
He disbanded the army in 1995. In its place is a 5,000-member police force trained to deal with riots, not combat. In outlying posts, it is outnumbered and outgunned by the rebels.
Discontent has grown in Haiti, a nation of eight million people, since Mr Aristide’s party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000 and international donors froze millions of dollars.
Mr Aristide is accused of using the police and armed militants to stifle dissent and allowing corrupt officials to enrich themselves while Haitians suffer deepening poverty.
Opposition politicians refuse to participate in new elections unless Mr Aristide steps down, and the rebels say they will lay down their weapons only when he is ousted.