03 March 2005
U.S.-Backed Peacekeeping Force Has Improved Security in Haiti
But situation in Caribbean nation remains precarious, says United Nations
By Eric Green
Washington -- A U.S.-supported multinational peacekeeping force sent to Haiti has improved security in the Caribbean nation, but the situation remains precarious and the possibility of outbreaks of violence "cannot be ruled out," says U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Annan says in a new report that the U.N. stabilization mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, is subject to attacks from gang members and former Haitian soldiers who retaliate against the U.N. effort to stem their illegal acts of violence.
The report said a number of incidents targeting MINUSTAH have taken place since November 2004, including hostile fire and other "aggressive acts" encountered in the course of U.N.-sponsored military and police operations.
For instance, on January 12, a MINUSTAH civilian police patrol came under heavy gunfire in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. The vehicle was hit and disabled; the civilian police officers had to flee on foot and were chased by a group of 12 heavily armed assailants. MINUSTAH and Haitian national police reinforcements arrived on the scene quickly and the civilian police officers were rescued uninjured. However, two innocent bystanders were wounded by the attackers.
Annan said a "firm and even-handed approach" has to be used in Haiti as "various armed groups challenge the authority of the Haitian state."
The secretary-general said MINUSTAH's mandated task of achieving a secure and stable environment in Haiti, "which may at times require the use of proportionate and necessary force, must remain at the forefront of our priorities."
The transitional Haitian government announced in December 2004 the launch of a compensation program for members of the former Haitian military who were demobilized in 1995. The United Nations has made about $2.8 million available for this purpose. However, despite their willingness to accept the indemnity they were offered, the former soldiers refused to disarm, said Annan.
The secretary-general reaffirmed the U.N. position that compensation payments to the former soldiers "should be linked to disarmament and entry into a comprehensive disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program."
Annan also called on Haiti's transitional government to investigate human-rights abuses, especially by officers of the Haitian national police.
"Impunity for human rights violations must end," Annan said. In order to "uphold the rule of law and ensure full respect for human rights, it is clear that Haiti needs to reform its institutions, especially in the administration of justice," he added.
U.N. MISSION NEARING FULL AUTHORIZED STRENGTH
MINUSTAH was created by a U.N. Security Council resolution on April 30, 2004. The resolution stated the mission would remain in Haiti for an initial six-month period. In November 2004, the Security Council renewed the mission for another six months, until June 1, 2005, with the announced intent to renew for additional periods, as needed.
Annan reported that MINUSTAH's troop strength had reached 6,013 of a total authorized strength of 6,700 as of February 15. Brazil has the most troops and military staff in Haiti, totaling 1,212, followed by Nepal with 758, Jordan 753, Sri Lanka 751, Uruguay 576, Argentina 556 and Chile 539. The United States also maintains a small military staff contingent in Haiti as part of MINUSTAH. Other nations in the Americas contributing to the MINUSTAH military contingent are Bolivia, Canada, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay and Peru.
MINUSTAH's civilian police component also has been strengthened by the arrival of additional staff. As of February 15, the number of the mission's personnel stood at 1,398 of the total authorized strength of 1,622. The United States is providing 25 civilian police officers to that component.
The fact that MINUSTAH has almost reached its full authorized strength has "substantially enhanced its capacity to respond to security threats" in Haiti, concluded Annan.
The United States is providing $15 million to support general elections in Haiti in 2005 -- part of a $44 million commitment from the international community to promote democracy and stability in the Caribbean nation. The United States had already provided $8.7 million in 2004 to support Haiti's electoral process.
Haiti is scheduled to hold municipal elections October 9. Those election are to be followed by two rounds of presidential and legislative elections November 13 and December 18, respectively. A new Haitian president is expected to take office February 7, 2006.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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