15 February 2007Extending the mandate of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) by another eight months, the Security Council today endorsed its recently stepped-up campaign against armed criminal gangs and called for the operations to continue. In a resolution adopted unanimously, Council members agreed to extend the force – comprised of almost 8,400 troops and police – through 15 October to help establish stability in Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The resolution specifically requested that “MINUSTAH continue the increased tempo of operations in support of the HNP [Haitian National Police] against armed gangs as deemed necessary to restore security, notably in Port-au-Prince,” the capital. Since December, MINUSTAH has undertaken a series of military operations aimed at dislodging the country’s gangs from areas that they control and use to terrorize the local population, carrying out kidnappings, thefts, rapes and drug-running activities. The problem is most acute in the densely populated slum districts of Port-au-Prince such as Cité Soleil and Martissant, where some of the gangs have been operating for years, long before MINUSTAH arrived in 2004. Last Friday, in the most recent major operation, more than 700 UN troops entered the Boston area of Cité Soleil to try to dismantle the band of a gang chief. While he was able to escape, other members were arrested and large amounts of weaponry and ammunition were seized. One person was killed and two UN peacekeepers were injured. David Wimhurst, a spokesperson for the Mission, told reporters today that the operations would keep going “until we have really dislodged” the gangs. He said the gangs’ activities in Port-au-Prince were holding the rest of the country hostage, soaking up headlines and deterring outsiders from undertaking investment and development. “Peacekeeping in Haiti is a Band-aid. The cure to what ails Haiti is development,” he said, noting that whenever MINUSTAH troops or police units enter a former gang area, they establish a presence and encourage the Haitian state to follow so that the area can stabilize and locals’ living standards can improve. MINUSTAH is conducting military-style operations because the HNP does not yet have close to enough qualified officers to carry out operations or to prepare files against suspects that are of a standard that can be brought before a court. The situation is made worse by what Mr. Wimhurst described as the “pretty lamentable” state of the Haitian judiciary and penal system. Corruption is widespread among judges, who are paid about $200 a month, jails are overcrowded and individuals are often detained for months without charge. But Mr. Wimhurst said Haiti had posted important gains in the past two years, including the successful staging of local elections last year, and that the Mission’s work had to be seen as a long-term project. He said that MINUSTAH had been the subject of a particularly virulent misinformation campaign orchestrated both inside and outside Haiti by supporters of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. UN peacekeepers have been accused of deliberately targeting civilians and of firing from helicopters during operations, both of which were untrue, he said, adding that MINUSTAH made strenuous efforts to investigate every genuine allegation that its troop had killed or injured a civilian. He added that, aside from the gang members, locals in Cité Soleil and Martissant were largely supportive of the recent wave of aggressive operations, and had applauded UN troops as they patrolled following last Friday’s operation in Boston.