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Foreign police arrive in Haiti


Foreign law enforcement officials began arriving in Haiti on Tuesday, more than a year and a half after the country’s prime minister appealed to other countries for help in curbing rampant gang violence that has roiled the Caribbean nation.

The United Nations says more than 7,500 people have died in violence since the appeal was launched in October 2022 – more than 2,500 so far this year alone.

With the presidency vacant and the national government weakened, dozens of gangs have taken over large parts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, setting up roadblocks, kidnapping and killing civilians and attacking entire neighborhoods. According to the United Nations, about 200,000 people were forced from their homes between March and May.

Now, the first 400 Kenyan police officers have arrived in Haiti to fight gangs, an operation organized largely by the Biden administration. Kenya is the first country to deploy an international police force of 2,500 international police officers and soldiers from eight countries.

“You are carrying out an important mission that transcends borders and cultures,” Kenyan President William Ruto told the officers on Monday. “Your presence in Haiti will bring hope and comfort to communities torn apart by violence and ravaged by chaos.”

Kenyan police are expected to tackle a range of priorities, including regaining control of the country’s main ports and liberating key highways from criminal gangs that demand money from drivers.

“The gang checkpoints on these roads are also their main source of income, as they extort money from everyone who passes by, and kidnap and hold people for huge ransoms,” said William O’Neill, the UN human rights expert in Haiti.

“Although the Kenyans’ arrival was belated, the timing was good,” he said, especially given that Kenya has appointed a new police chief and prime minister in recent weeks.

A small Kenyan assessment team arrived in May and began preparations but found itself short on equipment, forcing the United States, the mission’s main supplier, to scramble to find armored vehicles and other equipment.

“The Kenyans don’t want to be one of those relief groups that shows up on the ground and doesn’t leave their base for a month,” U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Dennis Hankins said in an interview. “They want to be able to see quickly that they are having an impact.”

The deployment, formally known as the Multinational Security Support Mission, is expected to last at least a year, the U.S. government said. The operation, approved by the United Nations and funded largely by the United States, aims to support Haitian police and create enough stability for a transitional government to hold elections and select a new president.

In preparation for the mission, the US military has sent more than 90 flights to Haiti, delivering more than 2,600 tons of supplies. Civilian contractors have built dormitories for Kenyan officers at Toussaint Louverture Airport in Port-au-Prince.

In May, Haitian government officials began clearing hundreds of homes around the airport that provided convenient shelter for criminal gangs and allowed them to fire on planes, forcing the airport to close.

The airport has since reopened to commercial flights, but gang leaders say they will fight Kenyans, whom they consider invaders.

“As soon as the airport was open and operational we started seeing military aircraft and that had a very significant psychological impact on the population,” Mr Hankins said.

Many experts have viewed the assessment of the international force with caution, largely because there is no comprehensive plan to address the root causes of Haiti’s many governance problems, beyond tackling insecurity.

After Prime Minister Ariel Henry resigned in late April, it took weeks for political parties to agree on the composition of a new transitional presidential council. It took a full month before Henry’s successor took office.

Gary Corneille, a former UN official who accepted the position in late May, and his office and the transition committee declined to comment on Monday on the upcoming deployment.

Hankins said Haitian authorities face difficult decisions, such as whether to first wrest control of Port-au-Prince’s central hospital from gangs or to secure the port to ensure the continued flow of fuel, food and other goods.

He added that the gangs had not fought back while the airport was being prepared. He said the Kenyans would “support” the Haitian police but not replace them so that their departure would not create a “security vacuum” when the mission ends.

so far, The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Chad, Jamaica and Kenya have officially sent personnel to participate in the operation.

But the mission has yet to receive much funding commitment.

Kenyan officials estimated the cost of the operation would be as high as $600 million, but the United Nations had only $21 million. The United States has pledged more than $300 million to support the operation.

The Kenyan deployment comes a month after Kenyan President Ruto visited the United States at the invitation of President Biden. The four-day visit was the first state visit by a Kenyan president to the United States in 20 years and the first by an African leader since 2008.

The United States, Canada and France – Haiti’s largest aid donors and allies – are reluctant to send troops to Haiti.

Kenya is the first country to publicly propose joining the operation, and many experts believe the effort would be more popular if it were led by an African country.

Experts say Ruto, who won the 2022 presidential election after a fiercely contested election, is using the deployment Further elevating his profile on the global stage.

Although Ruto faces Massive protests across the country Opposing the finance bill, critics say it will further increase the already high cost of living.

A group of Haitian police commanders recently visited the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and Mr. Ruto Hold talks and the Transitional Presidential Council of Haiti.

At a police camp in Nairobi, officers who will be deployed there made final preparations. They underwent physical and weapons training and were given new helmets and body armor, according to interviews with officers who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly to reporters.

They also took intensive French and Creole courses.

In addition to protecting critical infrastructure, police officers are ultimately responsible for guarding the presidential palace, which remains in ruins after the 2010 earthquake but remains a symbol of power in Haiti.

“The early deployment of this force is going to be very fragile,” said Sophie Rutenbar, a visiting scholar at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, who has worked in Haiti.

She said the initial group would likely “proceed cautiously” at first, but even as more officers from other countries arrived, their task would be daunting, especially because they had not worked together before, did not speak the same language and had no common “operating framework.”

Eugene Chen, a former United Nations official who has followed the situation in Haiti closely, said the international mission appeared to be acting out of urgency. Mr. Chen said the mission could exacerbate violence if it cannot find a way to support the political process in Haiti.

Mr Chen added: “It is not clear whether this is the right answer.”

Abdi Latif Daher Reporting from Nairobi, David C. Adams From Miami.

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