The Lawyers Committee for Individual Rights, a group known as CARLI and regarded as one of the most independent rights groups operating in Haiti, said U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police killed unarmed residents, including children and elders, in the slums of Bel-Air and Cite Soleil, strongholds of supporters of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
"We have credible information that U.N. troops, accompanied by Haitian police, killed an undetermined number of unarmed residents of Cite Soleil, including several babies and women," Renan Hedouville, the head of CARLI, told Reuters this week.
An assistant to Brazilian General Augusto Heleno, commander of the U.N. force, called the accusations unfounded.
"We have no information about any killing of unarmed civilians, ladies or babies by our forces," Brazilian marine Commander Alfredo Taranto said.
"Our action was directed against the armed gangs and only against the armed gangs," said Taranto. Haitian police officials also denied the accusations.
On July 6, about 400 U.N. troops with 41 armored vehicles and helicopters, and several dozen Haitian police officers, conducted a raid in Cite Soleil, Haiti's largest slum, to root out gunmen. The slum harbors a number of gangs, many of them loyal to Aristide.
"The foreign soldiers came with helicopters and their war machines and started shooting on everything that moved. They killed 40 people who carried no weapons," said Rene Momplaisir, a spokesman for a pro-Aristide grass-roots movement in Cite Soleil.
Aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said it treated more than two dozen people that day, including a pregnant woman who survived surgery but lost her baby.
'WOUNDED BY GUNSHOTS'
"We received 27 people wounded by gunshots on July 6. Three quarters were children and women," said Ali Besnaci, the head of the MSF mission in Haiti. "We had not received so many wounded in one day for a long time."
A U.N. military spokesman, Col. Elouafi Boulbars, said U.N. troops killed five "criminals" during the operation. But after those bodies were taken away, a Reuters TV crew filmed seven other bodies of people killed during the operation, including those of two one-year-old baby boys and a woman in her 60s.
All seven were killed in a house in the Bois-Neuf area of Cite Soleil, a territory controlled by one of Haiti's most wanted gang leaders, Emmanuel "Dread" Wilme. He is believed to have been killed during the raid, but U.N. and Haitian officials could not confirm his death.
Dread Wilme's lieutenants and several hundred of his supporters last Saturday took part in what they called a funeral ceremony for Wilme. But they refused to allow reporters to verify whether there was a body in the buried coffin.
Residents said the number of people killed in that area on July 6 ranged from 25 to 40.
"I counted 18 bodies, but a friend of mine who lives on the other side of Bois-Neuf told me he saw seven bodies. He, too, almost got killed," said Bernard Desrosier, 24, a resident of Cite Soleil. "It is a real massacre."
The same day, residents in another slum, Bel-Air, blamed Haitian police officers wearing black uniforms for the killing of 12 people.
At least 18 other people were reported killed last Friday in similar circumstances in the same slum. A Reuters correspondent saw several of the bodies.
"It is absolute necessary that the security forces neutralize criminals, but nothing can justify the murders of innocent people as it is occurring now in those poor areas," said Hedouville.
U.N. peacekeepers were sent to stabilize the troubled Caribbean country after Aristide was forced into exile in February 2004 by a bloody rebellion and under pressure from the United States and France to quit.
The U.N. mission, now numbering 6,207 soldiers and 1,437 civilian police, has been criticized for failing to curb violence and disarm both criminal gangs and former members of Haiti's disbanded army who participated in the rebellion.
The Haiti Action Committee, a San Francisco-based activist group, condemned what it called a "massacre" in Cite Soleil. The group said at least 23 people were killed.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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