- The Washington Times - Monday, May 2, 2005

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti

The gang warfare that consumed Cite Soleil is over, but four months after U.N. peacekeepers marched into this grindingly poor seaside slum, violence rages on and the death toll climbs daily.

Residents complain that the gangs, now unified, continue to kill, rape, rob and extort in its alleys, out of sight of U.N. peacekeepers, who rarely leave the main avenues or the safety of their white armored vehicles.

Meanwhile, a three-week-old campaign by the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (Minustah) to hunt down gang leaders has shown few results except frequent gunbattles between U.N. troops and the gangs, and an increase in civilian deaths.

“Things were calm when Minustah first came, but now it’s becoming violent again,” said coffin maker Pierre Wilfrid, 32, who said his business is no better because most people can’t afford to buy a burial box. “It doesn’t seem like Minustah has a plan to make things better here. And now they’re shooting people every day,” Mr. Wilfrid said.

In mid-December, Brazilian and Jordanian soldiers put a partial end to a scorched-earth battle between two rival gangs, one led by Emmanuel “Dread”Wilme, who says he is fighting for the return of deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and Thomas “Labanye” Robinson, an unspoken ally of interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue and of millionaire businessman Andre Apaid Thomas.

But gang activity gradually resumed, and a month ago, Mr. Robinson was assassinated, reportedly by his second in command.

Since then, the gang violence has reignited, though the battle lines have changed. The gangs, now united under Mr. Wilme, face off against Jordanian soldiers aided by Haiti’s national police.

[In a separate development yesterday, former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, 58, who has been on a hunger strike, refused to leave for medical treatment in the Dominican Republic, demanding instead his unconditional release from house arrest, the Associated Press reported. Mr. Neptune, who has been held without charge for 10 months in connection with political killings during the February 2004 rebellion that ousted Mr. Aristide, refused medical evacuation to the neighboring country, according to a government statement, and some say his condition is critical. The statement said Mr. Neptune’s demand that all charges against him be dropped was “absolutely unacceptable. Mr. Yvon Neptune remains at the disposal of the judicial system for the pursuit of the investigation.”]

Though the U.N. presence was widely welcomed in December, some residents now blame the peacekeepers for shooting indiscriminately into Cite Soleil’s warren of cinder-block and sheet-metal houses.

Witnesses and family members say U.N. peacekeepers shot Marie-Maude Fabien, 28, on the morning of April 23 as she fetched water a few blocks from her house.

“There were no other gunshots,” said Osner Paul, 30, her husband, as he jiggled their wailing 2-month-old son on his knee, trying to coax him to sleep.

“I can’t go out to work now because I have to take care of him,” said Mr. Paul. “I have nothing.”

U.N. forces and Haitian police have announced the deaths of “armed bandits,” but hospital workers and Haiti’s Red Cross say some of the gunshot victims have been women and children. U.N. officials deny knowing about any civilian victims.

“Do you think in such a crowded city, we can have a military operation without civilian casualties?” asked Lt. Col. Elouaifi Boulbars, a Moroccan peacekeeper and spokesman for the Minustah troops. “Our concern is to limit collateral damages, but we cannot stand with our hands tied without doing anything.”

Brazilian commander Carlos Chagas says avoiding civilian deaths is a priority for Minustah, which he said has resisted “pressure” to use even more force.

Some human rights observers say that although most residents would be happy to see an end to the gangs, an aggressive campaign to root them out of overcrowded Cite Soleil could cause high numbers of civilian deaths.

“Minustah is not able to distinguish between the population and gang members, and as a result, a lot of innocent people are dying” said Evel Fanfan, a human rights lawyer trying to help victims of the U.N. operations in Cite Soleil.

Mr. Fanfan and other critics say the peacekeepers should try harder to disarm gang members rather than relying on brute force.

“Maybe they can’t negotiate with Dread Wilme, but they should be able to convince most of the gang members around him to put down their weapons,” said Jean Jorel Corneille, the anti-Aristide mayor of Cite Soleil appointed by the interim government.

A U.N.-led national disarmament program that would provide incentives for gang members to yield their weapons still has not taken effect, 11 months after the peacekeepers arrived, because the government has not signed onto the initiative.

Meanwhile, plans by the interim Haitian government and international donors to spend millions of dollars to rebuild Cite Soleil, considered one of the most destitute slums in Latin America, have gone no further than a few projects and sporadic food handouts by peacekeepers.

Mr. Aristide and his Lavalas party continue to have strong support in Cite Soleil and most other poor neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. But many Cite Soleil residents sympathetic to Mr. Aristide are afraid of and resent gangs that claim to be fighting for his return while committing crimes against the population.

Some say Mr. Wilme’s gang and Mr. Robinson’s now-defunct anti-Aristide group were equally brutal.

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti has documented more than 80 rapes by gang members of women and girls as young as 13 in Cite Soleil since September.

One rape victim who asked not to be named said she was grateful to the U.N. peacekeepers for keeping the violence in check. “If Minustah were not here, many more people would be dead,” she said.

But the 47-year-old unemployed mother of three said she feels no safer now than she did when the peacekeepers established a permanent presence in the slum in December. One of this woman’s cousins was killed and her own 13-year-old daughter was shot in the arm by gang members last month.

She and her children still sleep on a worn sheet of cardboard covering the concrete floor of a neighbor’s house after gangs stole everything she had and then reduced her house to rubble last year.

“Every day, my daughter cries because she wants to leave Cite Soleil,” she said. “I’m afraid. If I had money, I would have left the Cite already. I could be shot at anytime. As others have died, I could die, too.”

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