Haitian police backed by U.N. peacekeepers encircled a seaside slum controlled by heavily armed gangs on Friday, killing at least five gunmen in a firefight as the U.N. Security Council discussed efforts to pacify the nation ahead of fall elections.
Between five and 10 armed civilians died in the hour-long gunbattle between Haitian police and suspects described as members of street gangs, said Lt. Col. Elouafi Boulbars, a U.N. military spokesman. He said two Haitian police also were injured in the clash in Cite Soleil, where a day earlier a Filipino peacekeeper was shot and killed.
Officials said Friday’s operation on the edges of the slum was cut short because of heavy gunfire from the suspects, who were shooting from positions inside the warren of tin-roofed shacks at Haitian police, Jordanian and Peruvian peacekeepers and a U.N. helicopter circling overhead.
Complaints of little progress
The clash came as some diplomats and politicians said Haiti has made little progress in preparing for November elections and needs more funding to lay the groundwork for the vote.
The U.N. Security Council met with leaders of various political groups, and participants said Haitian politicians expressed frustration with U.N. efforts to assure safe and free elections more than a year after the overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
“One year after the U.N. arrived, security has degraded, the socio-economic condition has degraded, confidence in the government has eroded,” said Gerard Blot, of Tet Ansam, a small nonaligned party.
Members of Aristide’s Lavalas Family party spoke little aside from complaining about mistreatment at the hands of the U.S.-backed interim government.
The Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, a pro-Aristide priest who has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, said he was frustrated by the situation.
“Today is a very sad day for Haiti,” said Jean-Juste, who denied plans to run for president. “President Aristide is not here and the people are not participating.”
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan learned “with great dismay and sadness” of the death of the U.N. peacekeeper from the Philippines and reiterated the U.N. mission’s resolve “to continue to work toward the establishment of a peaceful environment in Haiti,” his spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said in New York.
The government of the Philippines said the killing would not change its commitment to the U.N. mission.
The peacekeeper, a 22-year army veteran, died when gunfire erupted during an operation to cordon off Cite Soleil, a vast seaside shantytown.
More than 400 deaths since September
More than 400 people have died since September in clashes among pro- and anti-Aristide street gangs, police, peacekeepers and ex-soldiers who helped oust Aristide.
Security Council members also toured the northern cities of Gonaives and Cap-Haitien on Friday. U.N. soldiers said the security situation had improved in Gonaives, where peacekeepers were consumed with relief work after September floods that killed nearly 2,000 people. There have been less than half a dozen minor attacks on peacekeepers in Gonaives this year, soldiers said.
Anne Patterson, acting U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Haitian politicians expressed a great deal of discord and had few constructive ideas for the future in the meeting.
“It was all very disparate and about what happened in the past rather than focusing on the future,” Patterson said. “There’s a lot of work to be done on national reconciliation.”
French U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said “the past was very present” in the talks. “There was not enough looking, maybe, to the future,” he said.
Juan Gabriel Valdes, the U.N. envoy to Haiti, sounded one of the few notes of optimism, saying after the meeting he had heard for the first time the possibility of national reconciliation between political adversaries.
“I hadn’t realized until this moment the level of agreement that existed between the parties,” Valdes said.
Meanwhile, voter registration has not begun for the fall elections and there is a $20 million shortfall in needed funding, diplomats and politicians said.
Members of the Security Council said Thursday that the United Nations may expand its peacekeeping mission to include more police and add international observers ahead of the upcoming elections.