updated 9/4/2006 10:44:10 PM ET 2006-09-05T02:44:10

Haiti's government and U.N. peacekeepers will launch a campaign to disarm up to 1,000 gang members with promises of money, food and job training, but top gang leaders will not be eligible for the plan, a U.N. envoy said Monday.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, special U.N. envoy Edmond Mulet said officials will begin airing radio and television ads in coming days to inform the public about the disarmament plan.

The move represents the most sweeping effort to persuade well-armed gangsters to lay down their weapons and rejoin society since U.N. troops arrived in the troubled Caribbean nation two years ago to restore order following a February 2004 revolt.

"We are ready to receive 1,000 armed people who would willingly give up their weapons and arms," Mulet said. "We have kits to provide for their families, food and economic assistance. The whole package is ready and we're going to bring that in place in the following days."

Last month, President Rene Preval warned gangs based in the sprawling slums of Port-au-Prince to disarm or face death. The gangs, some of which are loyal to ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, are blamed for a spate of recent kidnappings and shootings that officials say are partly aimed at pressuring Preval for concessions.

Top gang leaders in the capital's volatile Cite Soleil slum have indicated a willingness to disarm, but Mulet said the initiative targeted low-ranking gang members.

"This is not for the big people responsible for human rights violence or criminal activities or killings or kidnappings. That we have to deal with in a different way," he said.

It will be up to a new, seven-member commission to decide who is eligible for the program, Mulet said. Preval will appoint the commission this week in a presidential decree, Mulet said, adding that its members are to include people "from all different sectors" of Haitian society.

Participants will receive ID cards entitling them to money, medical assistance, food for their families and training for manual-labor jobs, including as construction workers, garbage collectors and agricultural workers, Mulet said.

‘Long-term’ plan
Mulet, a Guatemalan diplomat who took over the 8,800-strong U.N. force three months ago, called the disarmament a "long-term" plan and said it would provide a "big improvement" to Haiti's security if successful.

"We believe 500, 600 maybe 700 people are involved in this kind of illegal activities ... so I think if we're able to disarm most of them and include them into society and give them some training and assistance in this transition, that's going to be very positive."

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