Gunfire erupted near Haiti’s National Palace on Wednesday as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met with government officials but no one inside the palace grounds was hurt, witnesses said.
United Nations peacekeepers stationed at the palace for Powell’s daylong visit to the impoverished Caribbean nation returned fire but the reasons for the shooting were not immediately clear, witnesses said.
Powell flew to Haiti on Wednesday morning for talks with Haiti’s interim government, which was installed in March after a bloody rebellion and U.S. pressure forced then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile.
The shooting began in Bel-Air, a slum two blocks from the palace, a U.N. peacekeeping official said.
“The palace was never under attack,” said Carlos Chagas, an assistant to the commander of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti. “There was some shooting in Bel-Air and U.N. troops, for some reason, opened fire.”
A palace security guard said shots were fired from a car passing outside the stately white building in downtown Port-au-Prince and U.N. security forces returned the fire.
State Department officials said Powell was safe.
“He is following his schedule, but some of the venues have changed,” said a U.S. State Department official in Washington who asked not to be named.
A second State Department official in Washington said: “Shots were fired in the general vicinity (of the presidential palace). (Members of the) presidential guard well outside the palace, in the external perimeter, fired back in that general direction. ... The secretary is safe.”
Dozens of U.N. troops surrounded the palace after the shooting and others moved into the slum in armored vehicles.