It's hard to get to excited about a new Haitian military government led by a man who has served in each of that country's repressive governments for the past two decades.

But in a place where virtually all political news is bad, the news of the latest coup appears to be a little less bad than usual.At least Gen. Prosper Avril does not have the reputation for cruelty that the Duvaliers, father and son, and Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy did. And in Haiti, a government that does not murder its own people is a step forward.

Sunday's coup by the elite Presidential Guard, which sent Namphy packing to the Dominican Republic and brought Avril, the army's adjutant general, to power, was triggered by an increase in atrocities in recent weeks. In the worst incident, 13 people were slaughtered and 77 more were wounded while attending mass at a Roman Catholic church on Sept. 11.

The killings have been blamed on Tonton Macoutes, the private militia of thugs created by Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier in the 1960s.

To the degree that the new government can rein in the Tonton Macoutes and live up to its promises to respect human rights, it deserves U.S. support.

After that, the next goal must be economic aid to the country's starving people. While an elite of about 60,000 controls more than half of the country's wealth, a Haitian child dies every five minutes of malnutrition.

Further goals should include democratic reform and drug enforcement. The United States has expressed concern at reports that the new army commander may be Jean-Claude Paul, who has been indicted on drug trafficking charges by a federal court in Florida.

Paul's criminal history is a valid concern, but it must not be the only one. The United States must certainly oppose drug trafficking, because in the long run it destroys lives of Americans and Haitians alike. But if something is not done to end the killings by bands of thugs and the deaths by starvation, many Haitians won't live long enough to worry about the long run.