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25666: Wayne: (news) No peace for Haitians By Malcolm Garcia (fwd)
From: Desiree Wayne <email@example.com>
No peace for Haitians
Impoverished in line of fire between U.N. forces, gangs
By Malcolm Garcia
Special to The Denver Post
Port-au-Prince, Haiti - The mother of nine sat in a cinder-block house in the
seaside slum of Cite Soleil and mourned her 28-year-old son, who had been shot
in the head.
Ananaze Santeilise was not surprised by his death.
She knew that the violence between U.N. forces and armed factions demanding the
return of former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide would likely claim
one or more of her children.
"He was not political," Santeilise, 48, said of her dead son. "He never carried
Santeilise is among dozens of families in Cite Soleil who say they have lost
husbands and wives, daughters and sons since March, when United Nations troops
began a campaign with the Haitian National Police to crush armed groups still
loyal to Aristide.
The crackdown followed months of criticism by the United States that
Brazilian-led U.N. forces were not doing enough to quell the violence.
But the presence of U.N. peacekeepers has failed to stop the violence, and has
fueled new anger and conflict.
Supporters of the former leader say they plan to respond with violence to what
they claim is a joint U.N.-police effort to crush political opposition, wipe
out the pro-Aristide movement, prevent democratic reforms and force the
U.S.-supported interim government into power in elections slated for November.
The U.N. and Haitian police claim to have killed dozens of gang leaders. A
poster of some of the dead men hangs in the front office of the U.N., with X's
drawn across their photographs.
But many in Cite Soleil, an area of 250,000 people and one of the poorest
ghettos in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, accuse U.N. soldiers of
shooting indiscriminately into the slum's patchwork of cramped housing and dirt
streets, killing not only gunmen but bystanders with no political affiliation
or history of violence. The area is a haven for armed groups loyal to Aristide
and opposed to the current interim government.
"The Geneva Convention stipulates that the use of guns against civilians is
illegal," says Pierre Alexis, coordinator of the Red Cross operation in Cite
Soleil. "But the U.N. doesn't hesitate to use them."
Independent human-rights reports support allegations of sanctioned violence and
"Keeping the Peace in Haiti?" a report by the Harvard Law School human-rights
program, concluded that the peacekeeping effort has "effectively provided cover
for the police to wage a campaign of terror in Port-au- Prince's slums. Even
more distressing ... are credible allegations of human-rights abuses
perpetuated by (the peacekeeping force) itself," the recently released report
A study by the University of Miami's Center for the Study of Human Rights,
"Haiti Human Rights Investigation," found that U.N. police and soldiers "resort
to heavy-handed incursions into the poorest neighborhoods that force
intermittent peace at the expense of innocent residents."
Carlos Chagas, the U.N. spokesman in Port-au-Prince, conceded that the
international organization has received reports of civilian casualties in
Haiti, but he would not say how many such reports have been made.
"We are a military and trained to kill and use overwhelming power," Chagas
said. "(But) we understand we must avoid casualties to the civilian
In preparing this report, a reporter and photographer witnessed several
incidents, including bodies left behind minutes after U.N.-backed police swept
through slum areas.
The 7,400 troops of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH,
arrived in Haiti in June 2004 intending to end the chaos that ensued after
Aristide fled the island that February following a three-week rebellion against
what his opponents said was a corrupt and violent regime. His backers assert
that wealthy Haitians opposed to Aristide's programs for the poor forced him
out with U.S. backing.
Civilians now find themselves trapped between U.N. soldiers and the armed gangs
living among them.
"Even if you're innocent, even if you're not part of the fighting, you get
shot," said Cite Soleil resident Micheal Belizeer. He was shot in the arm April
15, he said, when the U.N. started firing near his house.
The animosity toward the U.N. peacekeepers also reflects the tremendous social
problems in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Nearly half of 8.1
million Haitians are 18 or younger. The average monthly income is about $30 to
$50. Unemployment hovers around 80 percent.
In Cite Soleil, families share space with feral pigs, goats and dogs. Their
rusted metal shacks sit on fetid streets amid stagnant ponds of sewage and
weed- choked canals poisoned by toxic waste.
Promises of $1.3 billion in international aid have not materialized.
Many families have raised their beds onto cinder blocks and crawl beneath them
when gunfire erupts.
"We are living a cursed life," said Chanon Lemoinse, 50, a mother of four.
She and dozens of other Cite Soleil residents, including Santeilise, accused
U.N. forces of injuring scores of innocent people when it entered the slum
April 15 in pursuit of gang members.
The U.N. reported killing 10 gunmen, but human-rights groups Medecins Sans
Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) and the Institute for Justice and
Democracy in Haiti said at least 38 others were injured.
Lemoinse said her 29-year-old son was wounded in the forehead by soldiers she
saw shooting from a U.N. armored personnel carrier.
The U.N. has long-term plans for a national disarmament program, Chagas said.
However, the American-backed provisional government of interim Prime Minister
Gerard Latortue has not yet agreed to the initiative.
"There is no interest in disarmament in the interim government," said
Philadelphia lawyer Thomas M. Griffin, author of the University of Miami
report. "They'd have to then deal with what the people want: jobs, education.
Many want Aristide back. We need dialogue but there's no Jimmy Carter going
down there to do it."