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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 February 2007, 00:18 GMT
Poverty and gangs curb Haiti progress
By Nick Caistor
In Port-au-Prince, Haiti

The blue-and-white United Nations flag flutters over a half-destroyed building on a corner in Cite Soleil, the sprawling slum down at the water's edge in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.

Market on the edge of Cite Soleil slum
Things are said to be getting better in Cite Soleil
United Nations troops have moved into the slum, where almost a quarter of a million people live, as part of a new "get tough" policy against the armed gangs based there.

In the three years since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted from power, some 9,000 UN peacekeepers have been struggling to break up the gangs - often armed thanks to money earned from the illegal drugs trafficking - and arrest their leaders.

A new Brazilian commander was appointed earlier this year. Major General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz told reporters he was pleased at the progress being made.

"Now it's possible to walk in Boston [a neighbourhood in Cite Soleil] without fear, without problems, without criminals circulating freely," he said.

The new tougher policy shows signs of producing results. Three important gang leaders from Cite Soleil were captured in the last week of February, and the UN says it now controls a quarter of the slum area.

Fears

The Security Council mandate for the Minustah forces to remain in Haiti was recently extended, but only until mid-October 2007.

Jordanian UN peacekeepers in Perionville
Many Haitians fear more violence when the UN pulls out
This was a compromise between members such as the United States, the United Kingdom and France, who wanted the troops there longer, and China, who argued they should be pulled out much sooner.

The UN Security Council wants to see Haiti move on from "peace-keeping to peace-building", but Minustah spokesman David Wimhurst told reporters last week: "We cannot complete the job in eight months."

Haiti has no army, and the police force is only some 5,000-strong. It has been accused of widespread corruption, and of being in league with the gangs.

A new police force is being trained at the rate of 500 personnel every six months, but they are as yet untried on their own.

This has created fears among many Haitians that when the United Nations pulls out, there could be renewed violence.

Aid lacking

Mr Aristide himself is living in South Africa, and still maintains that he and his family were forced onto a US aircraft in the middle of the night, because the US wanted him out.

River flowing down to sea in Port-au-Prince
Very little of the aid pledged to Haiti has materialised
He is cautious about any plans to return to Haiti, where his former colleague Rene Preval won a landslide victory to return as president in February 2006.

Mr Aristide says he would like to go back and teach at the University of Tabarre, the area of Port-au-Prince where he used to have his residence.

So far, the 63-year-old President Preval has shown no great desire to invite him back.

He is very different from the charismatic, dynamic Mr Aristide. He prefers to talk quietly and to negotiate, and not make many public statements.

His critics say he has been far too quiet in the first months of his five-year term in office. But President Preval insists that progress is being made.

"The people are not looking for a miracle. They only want to see an improvement in their lives," he told The Miami Herald newspaper.

This improvement is largely dependent on foreign aid reaching Haiti and being used effectively.

A November conference of aid donors in Madrid heard that almost none of the US$750m (382m) pledged to Haiti had reached its target.

By the time the UN pulls out in October, more visible results of improvement are needed if Haiti is not to slide back into complete lawlessness and despair.




SEE ALSO
Five die in Haiti slum violence
22 Dec 06 |  Americas
UN soldiers move into Haiti slum
25 Jan 07 |  Americas
US eases weapons embargo on Haiti
11 Oct 06 |  Americas
Fierce clashes in Haitian capital
20 Jul 06 |  Americas
Haiti ex-PM released from prison
28 Jul 06 |  Americas
New Haitian cabinet takes office
10 Jun 06 |  Americas
Timeline: Haiti
10 Jun 06 |  Country profiles

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