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26128: (news) Chamberlain: Soccer Peacekeepers (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Aug 28 (AP) -- Brazilian peacekeepers have offered all
sorts of things: free medical care, movie screenings, haircuts. Now, in the
violence-torn slum of Bel-Air, they're trying to win over residents by
turning to a natural resource from home.
In a sign of easing tensions, a five-player team from the U.N. force
swapped assault rifles and body armor for shorts and sneakers Saturday in a
game against Haitian slum dwellers -- and got trounced.
Struggling on an uneven concrete street that doubled as a soccer field
with orange traffic cones for goal posts, the Brazilian troops tried in
vain to make plays before a crowd of hundreds deliriously cheering the home
"It's amazing. These guys are world champions, and we're trashing them!"
said spectator Jean-Marie Pierre, referring to Brazil's national soccer
team, which won its fifth World Cup in 2002.
Pierre lost track of the score at around 7-0. Later, he and dozens of
other fans triumphantly rushed the field after the home team deftly laced
another shot past the Brazilian goal.
The scene was a major departure for U.N. troops, which last month were
shot at almost daily when they began pushing deeper into the community
teeming with well-armed gangs loyal to ousted President Jean-Bertrand
Since starting the games a week ago, peacekeepers say the haven't
received a single report of violence in the neighborhood which has also
benefited from U.N.-sponsored health clinics, movie screenings and free
"Our job here is to make people's lives better. Sport brings people
together and makes everyone happy," said Capt. Leonidas Carneiro, commander
of Brazilian troops in Bel-Air.
Well, not everyone.
Several members of Carneiro's squad winced and stomped their feet in
frustration at their poor showing. They later laughed it off and joked with
fans, some of them throwing their support behind the Brazilians.
"First, because they're handsome, also because they're nice with us,"
said 10-year-old Martine Saint Preux as she cheered on the Brazilian
goalkeeper after another missed save.
Next to her, Jean-Marie Joseph agreed.
"They protect us from police raids," he said, pointing to a spot up the
road where Haitian police accompanied by a machete-wielding mob allegedly
killed at least five civilians two weeks ago. Several residents say
violence is aimed at intimidating Aristide supporters leading to the
November general elections.
Police deny the charges and say in the last year gang members have
killed more than 50 officers in this warren of crumbling buildings, burned
out cars and trash-strewn streets.
The 7,600-strong U.N. mission was sent to the Caribbean nation in June
2004 to restore stability in the wake of a bloody rebellion that toppled
Aristide in February 2004.
Peacekeepers recently have been intensifying efforts to root out
politically aligned gangs entrenched in the slums of the capital,
Port-au-Prince, looking to boost security for the fall elections.
Carneiro, the troop commander, said his soldiers can empathize with
those living in Bel-Air because many come from Rio de Janeiro's gritty
"They understand this place," he said. "They know how to walk the
streets, talk to people."
Carneiro is pleased relations are better, but losing games wasn't part
of the plan. After all, this is soccer, and Brazil. Pride is at stake.
"I'm lining up a better team for this afternoon's match," he said.