By Stephen McKinley
Confusion continues in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after an apparent coup attempt on Monday, but aid work by Irish aid organization CONCERN suffered only minor disruption.
Heavily armed men had stormed the National Palace, the official residence of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in an apparent coup attempt. They were repulsed by the police force, and angry supporters of Aristide later attacked offices of the democratic opposition.
For CONCERN, health coordinator Carine Roenen, 39, said that the city appeared calm.
“Roadblocks have gone as of Monday afternoon,” she said, adding that she would continue working on her end-of-year reports as normal.
CONCERN is active in a number of areas in Haiti, including the desperately poor slums near the National Palace.
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On the ground, an eyewitness who declined to be named, said that the situation remained confusing.
“Around 4 a.m. on Monday I received a call saying that there was shooting at the National Palace,” the source said.
“We also heard that partisans of the current government were attacking opposition party property. At 1 in the afternoon, all radio communication was shut off. There are two opposing versions of what has been happening. Opposition forces on the radio have said that the government has staged the whole thing.
“The official version is that armed men from the Dominican Republic attacked the palace in order to kill the president.”
President Aristide was restored to power in 1994 by U.S. troops following his ousting in a coup, and then reelected as president in 2000.
The source added that speculation was mounting that a real coup had indeed been attempted, but that Aristide’s government had quickly seized the opportunity to attack the opposition under the guise of fighting back.
“Right now, for today, it looks like everything is functioning normally,” said the source.
“However, this is a heavy, heavy set-back for opposition negotiations with the government.”
CONCERN has been in Haiti since 1995, said the organization’s New York director, Siobhan Walsh.
“Between national and international aid workers, we have more than 50 people in Haiti,” she said.
“We have a great program on the island of Gonave, a credit and saving program for over 2,000 women, like a credit union. Gonave is one of Haiti’s poorest areas and this helps them buy food. We also do a lot of emergency and disaster preparedness work, and health education, working in the slums of St. Martin.”