Haiti: UN peacekeepers complete first phase of anti-gang crackdown in capital
“We’ve got a good catch,” UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) spokesman David Wimhurst told the UN News Service today of the security operation which began in late December and ended on 28 February. “We’ve taken over all of the gangs’ buildings and locations. We’re patrolling the streets and delivering aid.
“It was a very good operation. The local people are pleased that once again they can lead a normal life. What we need now is to get the schools and clinics up and running, and water and other services delivered.”
Overall, 55 suspected gang members were arrested, five kidnap victims freed and ammunition and arms seized. Many arrests were aided by the local population, who used confidential hot-lines to pass on information to the Haitian National Police (HNP) or to MINUSTAH, set up in 2004 to help re-establish peace in the impoverished Caribbean country after an insurgency forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to go into exile.
“This welcome collaboration will continue to be an important factor in the immediate future as the HNP, supported by MINUSTAH, seek to arrest the three gang leaders, all of whom escaped from their hideouts as the security operations closed in,” the mission said in a news release referring to Evens, Amaral and Belony, who used Cité Soleil as a base for their criminal activities including murder, rape, kidnapping, drug trafficking and theft.
In the first operations UN troops with tactical support from UN Formed Police Units and the HNP received heavy fire from the gangs and responded, proportionally, in line with UN Rules of Engagement and with all due care to minimize the impact on local residents.
Gangs used buildings occupied by civilians, including women and children, when firing on UN peacekeepers, and have in the past deliberately killed civilians in order to blame MINUSTAH for their deaths. They also fired on UN observation helicopters although these remained beyond the range of their weapons, resulting in civilian casualties as the bullets fell back into the crowded shantytown.
During operations that met with most gang resistance, medical organizations reported 15 civilians injured, while other sources reported a number of civilians killed, including two children. Six gang members were reported killed and more than five wounded. Five MINUSTAH soldiers were also injured.
But as the operations progressed, resistance decreased to the point where no shots were fired and no casualties occurred, as was the case in the final sweep on Wednesday in the Bois Neuf sub-division of Cité Soleil, when the HNP and MINUSTAH took over the headquarters of the Belony gang.
No sooner had MINUSTAH and the HNP seized the various gang headquarters than soldiers serving with the Brazilian Battalion transformed them into community centres, providing basic medical services, food and other aid to the local population.
“While this temporary aid has been welcomed by local residents, the needs of this extremely poor population now require the coordinated attention of Government, humanitarian agencies and the private sector alike, if the conditions that allowed the gangs to control Cité Soleil in the first place are to be positively transformed,” MINUSTAH said.
“To that end the United Nations in Haiti is following the lead of the Government, which is seeking to ensure appropriate long-term assistance is provided in a coordinated manner.”
While the feeling of relief in Port-au-Prince is palpable, the long term security situation in Haiti is far from assured, the mission cautioned, noting that as many as 250,000 guns remain in private hands and violent crime remains commonplace. The HNP, while growing in numbers and increasing in professionalism, is still four years away from reaching full strength and far from operating as a modern police force.
The country’s judicial system is broken and corrupted and urgently requires the passage of key laws through Parliament to establish its independence, its capacity to effectively control and discipline the judiciary itself and its ability to train new judges, MINUSTAH warned.
And the penal system urgently requires new facilities to ease overcrowding and the support of an efficient judicial system to process the huge prison population that is being held in preventive detention, without any kind of trial.