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United Nations hails security gains in Haiti

By Joseph Guyler Delva
/ Source: Reuters

By Joseph Guyler Delva

Security has improved dramatically in Haiti, where just a few years ago large areas were controlled by heavily armed gangs that killed, kidnapped and raped with impunity, U.N. police said on Friday.

The crime rate in the impoverished Caribbean nation has dropped thanks to a police force that is bigger, more professional and better coordinated with U.N. military and police personnel, U.N. police spokesman Fred Blaise said.

"The work was done by the Haitian police, of course with our support. They have done so much with so little," Blaise told Reuters on Friday. "Certainly, there are crimes being committed, but it is a level of criminality encountered in other countries of the world."

"The police are very visible in the streets and that gives a sense of confidence to the people."

Improving security is crucial to Haiti's efforts to encourage international investment, tourism and family visits by members of the Haitian diaspora.

"Security is one of the preconditions to have investments and job creation, and we are pleased with the job done by the police," said the chairman of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Reginald Boulos.

In December 2005, 162 kidnappings were reported by U.N. and Haitian police, but there were only seven last month and just two so far in August.

"We have made significant progress and crimes such as kidnappings, murders and other acts of violence have considerably reduced," said police spokesman Frantz Lerebours.

He said 50 people were gunned down in Haiti in July 2006, compared with 27 last month and only six so far in August.

"We have dismantled the gangs, arrested many of their leaders and we have taken over all the positions they had controlled and now there is not one area in the country which is under gang control," Lerebours said.

Around the capital, peace predominates in Cite Soleil, Haiti's largest slum, and in Bel-Air, which was once gang-controlled and among the most dangerous places in Haiti.

VETTING PROCESS

After decades of dictatorship and military coups, Haiti's civilian police force was created just 15 years ago, when its army was disbanded. The U.N. mission known as MINUSTAH, made up of 7,000 soldiers and 2,000 police, has worked to help stabilize Haiti since its last revolt in 2004.

"We received training from U.N. trainers and monitors and we send police officers abroad to receive training and we have engaged in a vetting process that has helped us get rid of the corrupt officers," Lerebours said.

U.N. troops have supported police by conducting 12,000 patrols and establishing more than 1,600 mobile and fixed checkpoints a month, said a spokesman for the U.N. military component, Brazilian Lieutenant Colonel Fernando Pereira.

The deployment of U.N. troops throughout the country has greatly compensated for the absence of police in some remote areas, said U.N. spokeswoman Sophie Boutaud de la Combe.

Haiti's police force has grown from about 5,000 members in 2005 to more than 9,000 today and Police Chief Mario Andresol said the number would rise to about 14,000 by 2011.