By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, June 9 (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti will crack down on violence that threatens elections this year, a U.N. official said on Thursday after a visit by a high-level contingent of foreign officials to the troubled Caribbean nation.
Haiti has been plagued by political and gang violence since the bloody rebellion that ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide last year.
"To those who want to foil the electoral process and to those who believe they can achieve their goals only through violence, those who want to kill hope, I tell them clearly that they don't have any chance to succeed," said Juan Gabriel Valdes, the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, at a news conference following the visit.
"The will of MINUSTAH (the U.N. mission) to confront the violence is there and will be there until those armed groups that have launched organized violence have been eliminated," he said.
A top elections official suggested last week that presidential, legislative and municipal elections scheduled for late this year should be postponed due to the violence and lagging voter registration.
Organizers had hoped to register 4.5 million voters between April 25 and July 31, but as of last week only 72,000 had been registered.
Still, Haiti's interim prime minister, Gerard Latortue, told the U.N. Security Council this week that the vote will take place as scheduled.
Officials from Brazil, France, Canada and United States, including Roger Noriega, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, visited Haiti on Thursday to assess conditions in the nation of 8 million people.
The United Nations sent peacekeepers to Haiti to support Latortue's interim government after Aristide was tossed out by former soldiers and armed gangs on Feb. 29, 2004. He fled into exile.
Latortue has criticized the U.N. mission for failing to halt the violence, which has killed hundreds of people.
The U.N. mission now numbers 6,200 troops and nearly 1,300 civilian police. Valdes said 200 Paraguayan troops would soon join the mission. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has recommended an additional 750 soldiers and 275 police officers.
"There are criminal gangs that are trying to undermine the democratic transition and the international community must react today if we wish to make a difference," Noriega said.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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