- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2007

NEW YORK — The U.N. Security Council yesterday extended its sometimes chaotic peacekeeping mission in Haiti and expanded the force’s mandate to take on the street gangs that are destabilizing large sections of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The council extended the about 10,000-strong peacekeeping mission for eight months and explicitly authorized peacekeepers to go after the urban gangs that have terrorized civilians with crime, kidnapping and drug-running.

The Security Council called on the force “to continue the increased tempo of operations in support of the [Haitian police] against armed gangs as deemed necessary to restore security.”

U.N. peacekeepers in the capital have been clashing with armed gangs in the densely packed Cite Soleil slum, most recently conducting a daylong firefight that wounded three of the blue-helmeted U.N. soldiers.

“Haiti is complex,” said U.N. mission spokesman David Wimhurst, speaking by satellite telephone from Port-au-Prince. “We don’t fight urban gangs in other missions.”

“This is a police responsibility, but … the Haitian police are not up to it,” he said.

The desperately poor country has long served as a safe haven for drug-runners, featuring a long, poorly secured coastline and porous border with the neighboring Dominican Republic.

Haiti’s weak central government and lack of internal security controls have created a fertile breeding ground for criminal groups, some of which have ties to ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

However, Mr. Wimhurst said, the gangs now are more firmly rooted in basic criminal activities than in politics or sophisticated drug trafficking.

New U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has pledged to restructure the $5 billion U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations to improve its vast field operations.

Mr. Ban today will present to the world body a plan to split the U.N. peacekeeping department into two agencies, one focusing on political and military affairs and the other concentrating on management and procurement to support 18 missions.

The budget for peacekeeping efforts could grow by 40 percent next year as missions in Lebanon, Sudan and Somalia are slated to expand to meet demands.

Finding soldiers and civilian support personnel to fill those missions has grown to be a full-time job requiring specialists in fields such as procurement, personnel and budgeting.

“We are stretched to the limit, the absolute limit,” a senior peacekeeping official said yesterday.

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