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HAITI: No Lull in Violence For Security Council Visit

Jane Regan

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Apr 18 2005 (IPS) - In Haiti, violence, political divisiveness, exclusion and poverty are inextricably interconnected.

Tackling them together, and adjusting the mandate of the peacekeeping mission here, are crucial if Haiti is to extricate itself from the downward spiral of violence and poverty, a high-level United Nations Security Council delegation concluded at the end of its unprecedented four-day visit on Saturday.

The delegation of 10 Security Council members, headed by Brazilian Ambassador Ronaldo Mota Sardenberg, and members of the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) pledged support for a disarmament campaign, reform of the police force and justice system, economic and social development, and national elections slated for fall.

But they also stressed the urgency of Haitians working together to resolve their country’s problems.

"The international community should not replace the Haitian people but it should assist," Sardenberg told the press on Saturday before the delegation headed to the airport. "It is imperative that the Haitian people take advantage of this historic moment and undertake their responsibilities."

Sardenberg and other members of the delegation also promised to take into account criticisms of the U.N. peacekeeping mission they had heard over the course of the visit. The Council, slated to renew its mandate next month, will likely "expand" or "enlarge" the mission, he said.

Recently, the mission – composed of some 7,400 soldiers and police and a phalanx of consultants, and known by its French acronym MINUSTAH – has been reproached for being too lax in combating violence, protecting human rights, reining in Haitian police or carrying out disarmament.

"We are in agreement that the opinions of the Haitian government should be taken into account in the process of designing the new resolution," Sardenberg promised after the delegation met with interim Prime Minister Gérard Latortue and his ministers last week.

The U.N. Security Council rarely goes on jaunts, and especially not to countries as violent and volatile as Haiti.

As delegation members met with politicians, officials and representatives of civil society in hotel conference rooms overlooking Haiti’s grimy, strife-ridden capital last week, U.N. peacekeepers clashed with armed gang members twice in as many days, leaving one Filipino peacekeeper dead – shot through the head – in the seaside slum city of Cité Soleil.

The next day, up to a dozen alleged gunmen were shot dead by peacekeepers in a clash in the same area, and violence there and in other parts of the capital is expected to continue.

At least 400 people, including about 40 police officers and four peacekeepers, have been killed in violence, mostly in Port-au-Prince, over the past six months. Much of it is linked to former soldiers demanding the army be reinstated or to armed gangs demanding former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide be returned to office. Haitian police have also been accused of summary executions.

Aristide was chased from power on Feb. 29, 2004, following contested elections, a long civil anti-government movement and a brief armed rebellion. A U.S.-led multinational force immediately occupied the country, handing the reigns over to MINUSTAH last summer.

Aristide and part of his Lavalas Family political party claim he was "kidnapped" as part of a U.S.- and French government-hatched "modern day coup d’état."

Despite the presence of the peacekeeping mission, violence and general criminality have increased in recent months. The French NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) estimates that 100 people were killed by guns in the capital from September through December 2004.

Since then, MSF says it has treated 391 patients for gunshot and other wounds at a hospital the group runs – high numbers for a country where blue helmets are supposed to be keeping the peace.

Not surprisingly, the Council decided to check in on MINUSTAH – one of 17 current blue helmet missions around the world, and Haiti’s fifth – in person.

The U.N. cannot fail Haiti this time around, Chinese Ambassador Guangyan Wang, chair of the Security Council this month, told IPS.

"This is an important visit, especially since, when we look back, we find that probably the last mission was a failure," he said.

In Wang’s opinion, the U.N. did not stay long enough last time it was here. That mission, which started in 1995, was charged with helping stabilise the country following a U.S.-led military intervention that restored Aristide to power following a brutal three-year (1991-1994) coup d’état.

(Aristide’s term ended in 1995. He sat one term out and ran for reelection virtually unopposed in 2000 races characterised by extremely low voter turn-out and accusations of fraud.)

The 1995 mission changed mandates four times, each one more restricted, each time with a smaller number of members.

Wang also said he and other Council members feel that previous efforts also focused too much on politics.

"Apart from this political process, the U.N. should do more in the economic and social areas to help this country to address these issues," he said. "If people have a better life, that might reduce the political tensions."

International donors have repeatedly made similar pledges. In 1995, for example, U.S. President Bill Clinton promised 1,000 kilometres of new roads. No asphalt was laid down.

Last summer, foreign funders like the World Bank and the European Union pledged 1.3 billion dollars. Only about one-fifth has been disbursed.

But the head of the ECOSOC delegation, Canadian Ambassador Allan Rock, said that only a long-term economic plan designed by the next elected government, and supported by foreign countries and multilateral institutions, can provide more than palliative relief.

"The future of Haiti belongs to the Haitian population, not to us," he said. "But it’s going to take sustained support from the international community for Haiti to succeed."

Still, even if Sardenberg is right when he says "the crisis in Haiti is at its base a social crisis," Haitian political culture and its fractiousness remain a big concern – both for Haitian politicians and Security Council members.

Although national elections are being planned for next fall, at least one of the more vocal political parties has opted out. Every week, hundreds and sometimes thousands of supporters of Aristide’s Lavalas Family party demonstrate to protest elections and call for his return.

After a meeting with the Security Council, Father Gérard Jean-Juste, a Lavalas member and recognised head of one faction inside the party, spoke out.

"It is a sad day for Haiti," Jean-Juste told IPS. "Our elected president, the right president, the legitimate president is not here. He has been kidnapped."

Jean-Juste said that "Lavalas did not participate in the meeting," but another Lavalas leader recognised as part of the other faction, Senator Yvon Feuillé, did address the Council.

Still, after the meeting, his fellow party member, Senator Gérard Gilles, who wants Lavalas to participate in elections, was not overly optimistic.

"The U.N. mission here has failed," Gilles told IPS. "Even if we have heard about a few attempts to deal with the insecurity, insecurity continues to increase, and as far as creating a climate that would enable elections to occur, I don’t think MINUSTAH can say that, ‘Yes,’ it has created a stable climate."

Wang told IPS he wants elections to come off on time, but stressed that they are not the end of the process.

"Elections are important, but elections are important only in the sense that they can bring all the people together," he told IPS. "I sincerely hope that all the political parties in this country, regardless of their different views, get together and join this national effort."

"This time the presence of the UN here should be a success story," he said.

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