- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 23, 2005

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The U.S. government gave 2,600 weapons — mostly small-caliber handguns — to bolster Haiti’s fledgling police force last year despite charges of human rights abuses and a more than 13-year-old arms embargo, according to officials at the State Department and U.S. Embassy here.

The disclosure reflected attempts to refute charges by a Swiss-funded disarmament group that the United States had used a loophole in the embargo to arrange a $7 million shipment of arms and ammunition to Haiti in 2004.

A U.S. Embassy official said the guns, which were secondhand, were valued at a fraction of the $6 million spent by the United States in 2004 to rebuild the Haitian national police.

An official at the State Department added that the U.S. government was considering a request by the Haitian government to approve the sale of an additional $1.9 million in weapons this year.

A report issued earlier this month by the Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based organization that is financed by the Swiss government, says that 5,435 military-style weapons, 4,433 handguns and about 1 million assorted rounds of ammunition, valued at $6.95 million, reputedly entered Haiti from the United States in 2004 for use by the Haitian national police.

“The report is false,” said the State Department official last week.

“During fiscal year 2004, we gave Haiti $6 million to rebuild the Haitian national police, and we gave Haiti 2,600 used weapons, most of which were handguns.

“We consulted and notified the Congress before doing so, and about 1,000 of these weapons, which are primarily .38-caliber pistols, are being used for training purposes,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Human rights groups have documented widespread abuses committed by the Haitian police under the U.S.-backed interim government of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, who assumed office in March 2004 after former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was removed from power amid an armed revolt.

Many of the abuses — which include killings, arbitrary arrests, beatings and illegal searches and detentions — have taken place in the poor neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, where support for Mr. Aristide runs strong.

A team of U.N. peacekeepers is investigating a spate of summary executions purportedly committed by the police and a prison crackdown in which at least 10 detainees were killed.

Robert Muggah, an internationally known arms-control advocate who wrote the Small Arms Survey report, declined to offer additional information beyond what he wrote.

The report fails to provide evidence substantiating the claim, and cites only “informants on the ground” as the source of Mr. Muggah’s information.

The U.S. arms embargo against Haiti, which went into effect after a 1991 military coup, allows for “exceptions, on a case-by-case basis.”

Mr. Latortue has publicly complained that the international community has blocked the purchase of arms, which he has said are necessary to combat armed anti-government groups.

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