|VOICE OF AMERICA|
SLUG: 2-323427 UN / Haiti (L-only)
TITLE=UN / HAITI (L-ONLY)
HEADLINE: UN Envoy Pledges Firm Action Against Armed Factions in Haiti
INTRO: The top United Nations envoy to Haiti is promising a sustained crackdown on rebel former soldiers and armed street gangs who control parts of the Caribbean nation. From U.N. headquarters, VOA's Peter Heinlein reports the envoy pledged to make Haiti safe for elections scheduled later this year.
TEXT: U.N. special envoy to Haiti Juan Gabriel Valdez Tuesday signaled tough action against armed factions responsible for the deaths of two U.N. peacekeepers.
The soldiers were killed in separate incidents Sunday. One, from Sri Lanka, died in an attack by former soldiers in Haiti's central plateau. The other, from Nepal, was killed during an operation to evict rebels from a police station they had controlled for months in the southern town of Petit-Goave.
Mr. Valdez says the deaths have renewed the U.N. force's determination to retake all police stations controlled by former members of Haiti's disbanded army.
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"There are four of five more police stations that are in the hands of members of the former armed forces, or of these combatants. We are going to continue with this policy and we are going to disallocate (dislodge) these people from where they are."
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The 74-hundred strong U.N. peacekeeping force has recently adopted a more robust posture, after being criticized for inaction during its 10-months in Haiti. Mr. Valdez Tuesday promised that the peacekeepers would use tough tactics, not only against the rebellious former soldiers, but also against armed gangs operating in shantytowns around Port-au-Prince, unless they bow to U.N. demands to lay down their arms.
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"If these offers are not received, if it is not possible to follow a peaceful rendering of weapons and disarming of groups, we will follow same line of firmness we have followed in the last week vis-a-vis the former military."
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Former soldiers and street gangs are blamed for more than 400 deaths since last September.
Mr. Valdez suggested that more offensives are likely as U.N. forces try to stabilize Haiti ahead of elections later this year.
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"The decision to liberate this police station responds to our mandate, to guarantee that the constitutional process in Haiti, particularly the elections that are going to take place in October and November will be free elections in which the people of Haiti will not be threatened by the presence of armed groups or armed gangs."
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Mr. Valdez estimates there are only about 200 armed gang members loyal to former President Jean Bertrand Aristide terrorizing residents of shantytowns around Port au-Prince.
Former soldiers who helped overthrow Mr. Aristide last year control large parts of the Haitian countryside. They are demanding reinstatement of the army, which Mr. Aristide disbanded in 1995.
Interim prime minister Gerard Latortue has said any decision on the army's future should be made by the new government that will be chosen in November's elections. (Signed)
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