The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti today expressed alarm at the sudden spate of kidnappings, especially of children, across the impoverished Caribbean country, and vowed to maintain its operations against the gangs responsible for the crimes.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), Edmond Mulet, condemned the wave of kidnappings and called on the public to cooperate with the national police and MINUSTAH to help bring those who committed the crimes to justice.
Some two dozen people have been arrested in the past week, including the chief of one armed gang, and at least six kidnapping victims freed following a series of joint operations involving MINUSTAH and the national police. A number of weapons have also been seized.
Kidnappings are a perennial problem in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, especially in the run-up to Christmas, when gang members regard ransom money as a key source of income.
The numbers have been particularly high this December – 29 schoolchildren were reported kidnapped across the capital, Port-au-Prince, during a three-day period last week. Many other kidnappings go unreported.
MINUSTAH acting spokesperson Sophie Boutaud-de-la-Combe told the UN News Centre that the Mission has two special intervention or anti-kidnapping units working with the national police to conduct arrests, searches and security operations.
During one operation last week in the Martissant neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince, 13 suspects were apprehended and one victim liberated. Other operations are being conducted in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien.
“We will not stop our operations,” Ms. Boutaud-de-la-Combe said when asked if activities would cease if there is a lull in kidnappings after the Christmas-New Year period. “This was just an increase in operations… but we are not going to stop. We will keep going.”
Haitians are also being encouraged to contact either the MINUSTAH or the national police telephone hotline with any information they might have on kidnappings, armed gangs and related matters. The Mission’s hotline has already received more than 1,900 calls so far this year.
As of 30 November, MINUSTAH – which was created in June 2004 – has 8,360 uniformed personnel (comprising troops and police), 1,017 international and local civilian staff and 186 UN Volunteers. Its current mandate runs out on 15 February next year.