- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2007

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — More than three years after the arrival of a U.N. peacekeeping force, residents of the capital’s Cite Soleil slum say the foreign soldiers finally are making headway against Haiti’s ubiquitous violence.

Things are beginning to improve here. I don”t hear nearly as many gunshots as I used to, Edith Destiny said while deep-frying a batch of Haitian marinade along a busy thoroughfare.

The 38-year-old mother of two said fewer gunshots means better business for her and the other merchants along 19th Street, where tin shacks and open sewers line a street freshly paved with funding from international donors.

More than 500 gang members have been arrested already this year by the nearly 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers, who have made up the country’s only effective law enforcement agency since the spring of 2004. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was in Haiti for a visit with the troops today.

Led by Brazilian troops, the force relieved an interim force of U.S. Marines who arrived in February 2004 to quell an armed uprising that prompted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to leave the country.

Despite the presence of the peacekeepers, gunmen loyal to the departed ex-president remained a daunting presence in the slums until a crackdown this year by U.N. forces led to the arrest or death of numerous gang leaders.

Known by the French acronym MINUSTAH, the peacekeepers in April arrested reputed Cite Soleil gang leader Belony Pierre, who was found some 60 miles north of the capital, apparently hiding from the campaign to track down known gang members.

Though the U.N. forces have been accused repeatedly of using heavy-handed tactics, many residents of Cite Soleil say they welcome the tough approach.

You can tell they are serious people and committed to helping us, 49-year-old Samuel Saint Louis said while standing next to a squad of Brazilian soldiers.

Indeed, most residents appear at ease around the heavily armed Brazilian troops, particularly the slum”s small children, who surround the soldiers, practicing the few words of Portuguese they have picked up from the visitors.

Before [the crackdown] things here were really bad, said one Brazilian soldier, who recalled that gunmen regularly would open fire on the peacekeepers when they patrolled the streets. But now it seems like things are getting better.

The Brazilian soldier said U.N. forces still come under occasional gunfire. We apprehended a lot of the leaders, and the neighborhood is safer for it, but we still have a lot of work to do.

Some soldiers say they worry that the gangs will return to power as soon as the peacekeepers leave. Their U.N. mandate is set to expire in October, although many expect it will be extended, as it has been several times already.

I don”t think that Haiti is ready to see the U.N. troops leave, said Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis in an interview. He said the country must first increase the ranks of its own national police before assuming responsibility for its own security.

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