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PRESS BRIEFING ON HAITI

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

22 March 2005

Last Sunday’s events in Haiti were not a sign of any upsurge of violence but the result of a decision of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) to liberate police stations that had been occupied by armed groups affiliated with the former military, Juan Gabriel Valdes, Head of the Mission and Special Representative of the Secretary-General, told correspondents this afternoon at a Headquarters press briefing.

He contrasted those events with the decision some weeks ago of some 300 former military from Cape-Haitien to demobilize and participate in a MINUSTAH disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme. As a result of that decision, Mr. Valdes said, former military in other parts of the country were also deciding to demobilize.

There were two different attitudes among groups that were linked to, or part of, the former Haitian military, he said. The decision to liberate the police stations was in line with the Mission’s mandate to guarantee a free constitutional process in Haiti, in particular free elections in October and November, without people being threatened by armed groups or gangs. Groups or gangs operating in shanty-towns had been offered a process of demobilization, and MINUSTAH was working with some of those groups to explore peaceful surrendering of weapons and return to civilian life. If peaceful disarmament of those groups was not possible, the Mission would follow the same line of firmness.

Answering correspondent’s questions, he said a group of police stations were still in the hands of the former military. Some former military in four to five police stations in rural areas did not pose a threat to the community, but would have to demobilize at a certain point. The two situations last Sunday, in Terre-Rouge and Petit-Goave, were different, as the groups there constituted a threat to the population. In Terre-Rouge, for instance, the armed groups had assaulted trucks, abused the population and were accused of killing policemen.

He stressed that there was a clear division between those who were former military until 1995 and those who had decided to joint them in opposition (the “combatants”), but never had been member of the former military. The problems of last Sunday were with the latter group, he said. At present there were 6,000 MINUSTAH troops in Haiti. The operation in Petit-Goave had been conducted by the Sri Lankan battalion. In Terre-Rouge, the operation had been executed by Nepalese and Brazilian troops, with support of the CIVPOL and the National Police of Haiti.

Asked why the Mission had adopted a policy of “firmness” now, Mr. Valdes said that there had not really been a change in attitude in the field. Immediately after MINUSTAH forces had been fully deployed, at the end of December 2004, two big operations had been conducted that showed a determination to act when confronted with violence. Since then, numerous operations had been executed, at a rate of once a week. The military had not proceeded before, because the Government had initiated a policy of negotiations with the former military to convince them to abandon their illegitimate activities. The two groups had consistently resisted invitations to abandon violence. That was why a decision had been taken to proceed.

MINUSTAH, however, wanted to combine operations in shanty towns with development projects, as it was not possible to solve the problem of armed gangs in shanty towns solely through the use of force, he said. The conditions in which the people lived there needed to be addressed with water, food distribution and education. That would take time. He was, therefore, happy that, during a meeting in Cayenne, French Guiana, three days ago, 300 projects for shanty towns had been approved by donors. The Mission wanted to combine understanding for the enormous difficulties Haitians had in their day-to-day life and for the enormous poverty, with firmness with groups that continued to threaten the organization of elections and the return to a more stable situation.

In answer to a question on how many former military and associated gangs were still resisting and to what extent the population accepted them, he said that organized gangs in shanty towns, particularly in Port-au-Prince, consisted of some 200 people, with a core of some 50 people. However, the level of control and fear the groups could impress on the population allowed them to have an enormous level of mobility between shanty towns. As the gangs did not constitute “guerrilla groups” and had no possibilities of confronting the military, he believed the Mission would get better information on them if the population could be convinced of the legal order and MINUSTAH’s presence.

As for the former military, he said that, after the demobilization of some 400 people, there were some 300 of them left that were organized and armed, wandering around Hinge and the border with the Dominican Republic.

During the past few months, the Government had faced a difficult task as it had been confronted by people who did not represent political parties, Mr. Valdes answered to another question. Yet, he was satisfied with recent Government decisions to cooperate more closely with the Mission on the reorganization and professionalization of the police. The next months would be crucial to give the police the necessary backing and means to be more effective in their fight against armed gangs.

Asked about ex-President Aristide’s influence, he said there probably was some contact between Mr. Aristide and his former party, but he expected that all political forces would participate in the elections. He did not think Mr. Aristide had influence on the situation.

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