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UN considers rapid deployment of foreign troops to ease crisis in Haiti

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The United Nations Security Council on Monday reviewed options, including the immediate activation of foreign troops to liberate Haiti from the grip of gangs that have led to scarcity of fuel, water and other basic necessities.

Such a force would “eliminate the threat of armed gangs and provide immediate protection to critical infrastructure and services”, as well as ensure the “free movement of water, fuel, food and medical supplies from key ports and airports to communities and health care.” facilities,” said a letter that UN Secretary-General António Guterres submitted to the council on Sunday.

The letter, which was seen by The Associated Press and has not been made public, said that one or more member states would deploy troops to assist Haiti’s national police.

It also states that the Secretary-General can “deploy additional UN capabilities to support a ceasefire or humanitarian arrangements”.

However, the letter notes that “a return to a stronger United Nations commitment to peacekeeping will remain a last resort if the international community does not take urgent action in accordance with the options outlined and the national law enforcement capacity proves unable to to reverse the deteriorating security situation.”

The letter was submitted after Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry and 18 senior officials asked international partners for “the immediate deployment of a specialized force, in sufficient quantity,” to stop the “criminal actions” of armed gangs across the country.

The request comes nearly a month after one of Haiti’s most powerful gangs seized control of a major fuel terminal in the capital, Port-au-Prince, which stores some 10 million gallons of diesel and gasoline and more than 800,000 gallons of kerosene. took.

Tens of thousands of protesters have also barricaded streets in Port-au-Prince and other major cities in recent weeks, blocking the flow of goods and traffic as part of an ongoing protest against spikes in petrol, diesel and kerosene prices.

Gas stations and schools are closed, while banks and supermarkets operate on a limited schedule.

Regis Wilguens, a 52-year-old businessman, said he doesn’t believe the expected arrival of foreign troops would change anything.

“The results are always the same,” he says. “The social problems and economic problems have never been solved.”

Protesters are demanding the resignation of Henry, who announced in early September that his government could no longer afford to subsidize fuel.

Rising paralysis has seen supplies of fuel, water and other basic commodities dwindle amid a cholera outbreak that has killed several people and sickened dozens of others, with health officials warning the situation could worsen.

On Sunday, Haitian senators signed a document demanding that Henry’s “de facto government” delay its request to deploy foreign troops because it is illegal under local law.

A spokesman for Henry was not immediately available for comment.

The possible presence of international forces bothers Georges Ubin, a 44-year-old accountant, who said he knows people who have been victims of peacekeepers and believes foreign intervention would not improve matters.

“The foreign troops will not solve Haiti’s major problems,” he said. “These are problems that have been there since I was born. It never gets better.”

Haitian officials have not specified what kind of armed forces they are seeking, with many local leaders rejecting the idea of ​​UN peacekeepers and noting that they have been accused of sexual assault and of fueling a cholera epidemic that killed nearly 10,000 people during their 13-year career. mission in Haiti that ended five years ago.

The letter submitted by the UN Secretary-General on Sunday suggests that the rapid-action force should be phased out as the Haitian police regain control of infrastructure, and that two options could follow: Member States set up an international police task force to assist and advise local officials or create a special force to deal with gangs “including through joint strike, isolation and containment operations across the country.”

The letter notes that if member states do not “step forward with bilateral support and funding”, the UN operation could be an alternative.

“But as indicated, a return to UN peacekeeping was not the authorities’ preferred option,” it said.

The letter also states that the Security Council could decide to strengthen the police component of the current United Nations integrated agency in Haiti, known as BINUH, and call on member states to provide additional equipment and training to local police forces, who is understaffed and without resources. Only about a third of the approximately 13,000 are operational in a country with more than 11 million inhabitants.

The secretary-general said the issue is urgent, noting that Haiti is “facing an outbreak of cholera amid a dramatic deterioration in security that has crippled the country”.

The US embassy has granted temporary leave to staff and urged US citizens to leave Haiti immediately.

As UN officials and member states consider Haiti’s request, some people, including 35-year-old Allens Hemest, hope to see troops arriving soon. He is unemployed. Until recently, he worked at a factory that produced plastic cups, but stopped during the crisis.

“The whole city is under siege,” he said. “If this is going to bring peace, I’m all for it. We cannot live like this.”

Associated Press reporter Evens Sanon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti contributed.

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