Haiti: UN peacekeepers launch large-scale operation against criminal gangs
“There will be no tolerance for the kidnappings, harassment and terror carried out by criminal gangs,” UN Military Force Commander Maj. Gen. Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz said after over 700 UN soldiers from seven countries launched Operation Jauru Sudamericana, forming a secure perimeter around the Boston area to restrict gang movement.
The soldiers then systematically began to control key points, including a building gang members used as to hold kidnap victims and for other criminal activities. “I will continue to cleanse these areas of the gangs who are robbing the people of their security,” Maj. Gen. Dos Santos Cruz added.
The presence of UN peacekeepers will be the starting point for humanitarian, human rights and Haitian police activities aimed at stabilizing and rebuilding the area.
Maj. Gen. Dos Santos Cruz recently announced he would intensify efforts against criminal gangs in the capital city. To help carry out this mission, an additional battalion of soldiers from Nepal will be used to conduct manoeuvres in the Cite Soleil area, notorious for its high crime rate. “Our aim is to provide a safe and secure environment where people can live without fear,” the general said.
The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), set up in 2004 to help re-establish peace in the impoverished Caribbean country after insurgency forced then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to go into exile, has reported that armed criminal gangs are forcing children to take part in their operations, often under threat of killing them, and using them as human shields in confrontations with the police.
“These children are being forced to become criminals,” the head of MINUSTAH’s child protection unit, Massimo Toschi, told a news conference yesterday. He presented a video, entitled ‘The lost children of Cité Soleil,’ with the testimony of one of these youngsters from the Port-au-Prince slum notorious for its high crime rate.
Preventive measures should include promoting the fight against poverty, strengthening families, enabling these children to go to school and reinforcing the capabilities of the Haitian police child protection brigade, MINUSTAH child protection officer Carline Allen said.
Lack of funding is also a serious concern. Haiti’s Social Welfare Institute, entrusting with caring for vulnerable children, had a budget of less than $450,000 last year, of which all but some $35,000 went on staff salaries. “It is easy to understand that no shelter, no project can be undertaken this institute,” Ms. Allen said.