UN boss calls for reorganization of peacekeepers in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti: UN peacekeepers in Haiti should be reorganized to better monitor the country’s border areas and coastline, UN chief Ban Ki-moon says in a recently released report.

The study, reviewing activities of the UN force known as MINUSTAH over the past six months, recommended that the force’s mandate, which expires October 15, be extended for one more year.

Ban stressed the UN’s crucial security role in helping stabilize the impoverished Caribbean nation at a time “when Haitian police capacity is still developing”.

“MINUSTAH technical expertise offers a valuable resource in support of Haitian efforts to strengthen national and local governance capacity to develop its structures for border management, the rule of law and the protection of human rights,” he said.

The UN head said it was essential to keep a “substantial international military and police presence” on the ground and at current levels, adding that “there is a need to adjust certain aspects of its force configuration to better meet current requirements”.

Ban said it was unlikely MINUSTAH would need to conduct large-scale security sweeps, such as those launched jointly with Haitian police in early 2007 against armed gangs which controlled some of the poorest neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince.

“It would therefore be desirable to enhance the mission’s operational ability to deploy rapidly and to monitor remote locations, including border areas and the country’s coastline,” the report said.

Haiti has long been a major transshipment point for drugs on route from South America to the United States and Europe, as well as for arms and other contraband.

Ban suggested that up to 25 per cent of MINUSTAH’s armored personnel carrier capability should be replaced with lighter patrol vehicles, which could lead to a reduction of some 120 troops from its military component, down to a total figure of 6,940.

Ban said an ongoing review of the force’s configuration underscored the need to boost its capacity to back Haitian authorities in their crowd-control efforts. He also recommended a total increase of 120 additional officers, increasing MINUSTAH’s police component to 2,211.

Ban also said Haiti was moving away from a past of conflict, but progress “remains extremely fragile and is susceptible to setbacks or reversal”.

The Brazilian-led MINUSTAH has been deployed in Haiti since mid-2004. Last May, Ban named former U.S. president, Bill Clinton, as his special envoy to the country.

Clinton has been trying to attract foreign investment to the Caribbean island nation, which was devastated by hurricanes last year and is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

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