Mission in Haiti needs capacity for urban operations, UN peacekeeping chief says

The United Nations mission in Haiti is making slow headway on the many challenges it faces, but lacks specialized capabilities for the urban confrontations it experiences daily, the head of UN peacekeeping said today.

After briefing the Security Council in closed session, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno told journalists that security in the Caribbean nation, where the UN has deployed the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) since June of last year, is the immediate and fundamental challenge, without which "no progress is certain."

In the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, there have been security improvements in one slum district, Bel Air, but no real improvement in Cité Soleil, where the people have been the first victims of gangs, he said.

MINUSTAH has carried out a number of military actions in these areas, Mr. Guéhenno said, but "it is not easy for MINUSTAH to conduct these operations because, operating in an urban environment, ideally you need the kind of very specialized capacities that the mission doesn't really have. But this security situation needs to be addressed urgently."

Saying there may have been some civilian casualties during a MINUSTAH operation carried out on 6 July in the Bois Neuf area of Cité Soleil aimed at arresting a prominent gang leader, Emmanuel Wilmer, alias "Dread Wilmé," Mr. Guéhenno said they were "not of the order of magnitude" reported by some critics of the mission.

"After the operation, there were unconfirmed reports from the Haitian National Police (HNP) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that there were a number of revenge killings," he said.

The country was extraordinarily polarized, he noted, using as illustrations the burning of a major market downtown Port-au-Prince last month and the killing of journalist Jacques Roche, whose body was found last Sunday, four days after he was abducted.

Another challenge facing MINUSTAH was assisting with the upcoming elections which could be a foundation for stabilization or could further divide the country, Mr. Guéhenno said, as a consequence of which the mission was promoting inclusiveness, but on the basis that violence was not an option. He welcomed the clear condemnation of violence from moderates in Fanmi (Famille) Lavalas, the party headed by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide before he left the country in February of last year.

The third challenge for the mission was the shocking poverty and high unemployment he had observed across Haiti, which "does not create, obviously, a good basis for reconciliation and progress." MINUSTAH, for its part, was looking at using Haitian manpower in such projects as road building, Mr. Guéhenno said.