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Foreign law enforcement officials began arriving in Haiti on Tuesday, more than a year and a half after the country’s prime minister issued a call for other countries to help stop the rampant gang violence that is ravaging the nation. This Caribbean country.

Dozens of armed men in military uniforms stepped off a Kenya Airways plane at Haiti’s Toussaint Louverture International Airport in the capital Port-au-Prince.

The officers are part of a deployment of officers from eight countries who will fan out across the capital to try to wrest control of the city from dozens of armed groups who have attacked police stations, free prisoners and kill with impunity.

Since the call for international assistance was launched in October 2022, more than 7,500 people have died in violence – more than 2,500 this year alone, the United Nations said.

With a weakened national government and the presidency vacant, dozens of gangs took over much of the capital earlier this year, erecting roadblocks, kidnapping and killing civilians, and attacking entire cities. neighborhood set. According to the United Nations, about 200,000 people were forced to flee their homes between March and May.

Now, an initial team of 400 Kenyan police officers has arrived to confront the gangs, an effort largely organized by the Biden administration. The Kenyans were the first to deploy the expected 2,500-member force.

“You are on an important mission that transcends borders and cultures,” President William Ruto of Kenya told officials on Monday. “Your presence in Haiti will bring hope and relief to communities torn apart by violence and devastated by chaos.”

Kenyan officials are expected to tackle a long list of priorities, among them regaining control of the country’s main port, as well as freeing major highways from criminal groups demanding driver money.

“The gang’s checkpoints on these roads are also their main source of income by extorting passersby and arresting them,” said William O’Neill, the United Nations human rights expert on Haiti. kidnap and detain people for huge ransoms.”

“Despite much delay, the arrival of the Kenyans comes at a good time,” he said, especially since a new police chief and prime minister were appointed in recent weeks.

Lower Delmas residents carry their belongings as they leave their homes in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in May.Credit…Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters

The United States provided many necessities for the mission, urgently searching for armored vehicles and other equipment.

“The Kenyans don’t want to be one of those missions that shows up on the ground and for a month they never leave their base,” Dennis B. Hankins, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, said in an interview. me”.

Mr. Hankins said Haitian authorities have difficult decisions ahead, such as what should happen first: regain control of the central hospital in Port-au-Prince, or defend the port for fuel. Raw materials, food and other goods can circulate stably.

Kenyans will “support” Haitian police, he said, but not replace them, so that when their mission ends, their departure does not create a “security vacuum.”

Officially called the Multinational Security Assistance Mission, the deployment is expected to last at least a year, according to the US government. Sanctioned by the United Nations and largely funded by the United States, its goal is to support Haiti’s police and establish enough stability so that the transitional government can hold elections to choose a president. new members as well as members of Congress.

The US military made more than 90 flights to Haiti before the mission, carrying more than 2,600 tons of supplies. Civilian contractors are building sleeping quarters for Kenyan officers at Port-au-Prince airport.

In May, Haitian government officials began clearing hundreds of homes within the airport’s perimeter, making it easier for gangs to hide and shoot at planes, forcing the airport to close. . The airport has reopened for commercial flights.

The gangs did not fight back during preparations at the airport, he added, a sign that they were perhaps not ready to engage in direct combat with the special forces.

“As soon as we got the airport open and operating and we started seeing military flights, that really had a significant psychological impact on the population,” Mr. Hankins said.

A US military cargo plane arrived at Toussaint Louverture airport in Port-au-Prince in May. The military flights carried supplies to the multinational force.Credit…Odelyn Joseph/Associated Press

Many experts are cautious in their assessment of the international force, largely because beyond addressing the unrest, there is no comprehensive plan to address the root causes of governance problems of Haiti.

After Prime Minister Ariel Henry was forced to resign at the end of April, it took several weeks for political parties to agree on who would serve on the new transitional presidential council.

It’s still another month before Mr. Henry’s replacement takes office.

Garry Conille, a former UN official, took office at the end of May.

In one social media posts late Monday, he said he hoped the trip would be Haiti’s last. This country has one long history of international interventions, including some that have been marred by accusations of sexual exploitation and poor hygiene leading to widespread cholera.

Hitherto, The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Chad, Jamaica and Kenya have officially provided personnel for the mission.

But the mission has not received many financial commitments.

While Kenyan officials estimate the cost will reach $600 million, the United Nations fund to pay for this is only $21 million. The United States has committed more than 300 million USD to this mission.

The United States, Canada and France — Haiti’s biggest donors and allies — do not want to send their troops to Haiti.

Kenya is the first country to publicly suggest doing so. Many experts believe the mission would be more welcomed if it were led by an African country.

Experts say Mr Ruto, who won the presidency in 2022 after a closely contested election, is taking advantage of the deployment to further enhance its profile on the global stage.

The deployment comes even as Mr Ruto faces off Massive protests nationwide against a finance bill that critics say would increase the already high cost of living.

The police fired tear gas and gunfire rang out Tuesday as thousands of protesters flooded the streets around the Kenyan Parliament in the capital Nairobi. Human rights advocates said at least four people were shot, one fatally.

A group of Haitian police commanders recently visited Nairobi, while Mr. Ruto organize negotiations with the Haitian transitional presidential council.

President William Ruto of Kenya in Nairobi in May.Credit…Brian Otieno for The New York Times

At a police camp in Nairobi, officers underwent physical and weapons training and received new helmets and body armor, according to interviews with officers who spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not allowed to speak publicly with reporters.

They also took intensive French and Creole courses.

In addition to protecting critical infrastructure, officers were at some point tasked with protecting the presidential palace, which remained in disarray after the 2010 earthquake but continued to symbol of power in Haiti.

But the 400-person team that arrived Tuesday is just a small step toward a massive operation that requires more people and resources to be effective, said Gédéon Jean, executive director of the Center for Human Rights Research and Analysis , a Haitian organization, said. was forced to suspend operations because of increased violence.

“There is still a lot of work to be done,” Mr. Jean said.

The initial team will likely “play it safe” from the start, but even with more officers from other countries, their task will be difficult, especially since they have never worked together before. each other, do not speak the same language or have the same language. “the framework works,” said Sophie Rutenbar, a visiting scholar at New York University’s Center for International Cooperation who has worked in Haiti.

“The early deployment of this force will be very vulnerable,” Ms. Rutenbar said.

Eugene Chen, a former UN official who closely follows Haiti, said the international mission seemed to come from a desperation to do something. If it does not find ways to support Haiti’s political process, Mr. Chen said, the mission could worsen the violence.

Mr. Chen added: “It is not clear whether this is the correct answer or not.”

Andre Paultre Contributing reports from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and David C. Adams from Miami.


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