Haiti awaits new govt, but UN-backed mission in doubt

Haiti awaits new govt, but UN-backed mission in doubt
Haiti awaits new govt, but UN-backed mission in doubt

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Men on motorcycles drive past by burning tires during a demonstration following the resignation of its Prime Minister Ariel Henry, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 12, 2024. — AFP pic

PORT-AU-PRINCE, March 13 — Haiti on Tuesday readied for a new government after its prime minister agreed to step down over spiralling gang violence, but a planned UN-backed stability mission floundered when lead-nation Kenya put its role on hold.

Gang violence has plunged the Caribbean country into renewed chaos since last week, leaving public services shattered, many people displaced and bodies strewn in the streets.

The capital Port-au-Prince was largely calm Tuesday after Prime Minister Ariel Henry — who has been stuck abroad since the latest unrest erupted — announced overnight he would resign.

Gangs who rule much of the city had demanded Henry’s departure after they launched a series of attacks on police stations, prisons and other infrastructure.

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But Haiti has been in a cycle of violence for years, and Henry’s resignation is not certain to help ordinary people who face worsening shortages of food and medicine.

“What we can hope for right now is a lull, but we know that the lay of the land will remain quite challenging in the future,” World Food Programme (WFP) country director Jean-Martin Bauer said from Haiti.

“Taking your kids to school, going to the supermarket, going to work, all these things are extremely risky.”

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WFP said it cannot get food into Port-au-Prince, and that 1.4 million people nationwide face emergency levels of food scarcity.

Speaking before Henry’s resignation announcement, gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, a powerful gang leader, told reporters that “our goal is to achieve the overthrow of the system.”

“I ask the Haitian people to take to the streets to demonstrate, express their frustrations and exercise legitimate violence against those who have made us suffer,” he said.

The gangs went on a coordinated offensive while Henry was in Nairobi to try to secure the deployment of a Kenya-led, multinational police mission, backed by the UN to restore order in the country.

In a blow for Haitian hopes, Kenya on Tuesday paused its plans.

Korir Sing’oei, Kenya’s principal secretary for foreign affairs, told AFP that “without a political administration in Haiti, there is no anchor on which a police deployment can rest.”

The United States — which has vowed to not send troops — quickly responded, saying it expected the mission would go ahead once a new government is in place.

Risk of civil war

Henry has remained in power in Haiti since president Jovenel Moise’s 2021 assassination, and it is unclear who would lead the country next.

The Caribbean regional body Caricom had secured his resignation at a crisis meeting in Jamaica on Monday.

“The government I lead cannot remain insensitive to this situation,” Henry said in his address from Puerto Rico, adding his government agreed to the creation of a “presidential transition council” and that he would resign when it was installed.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spent seven hours in the talks in a Kingston hotel, and US officials traveling with Blinken said that Henry had agreed to quit on Friday.

Escalating violence “creates an untenable situation for the Haitian people, and we all know that urgent action is needed,” Blinken said.

One issue raised in discussions were fears of reprisals against Henry and his allies, with the United States agreeing that the outgoing prime minister could stay on US soil if needed.

Government authority has been badly eroded in Haiti, which has not held national elections since 2016. A nighttime curfew was extended through Thursday — although it is unlikely overstretched police can enforce it.

“The gangs have become a force,” Gedeon Leon, founder of Haitian non-governmental group CARDH, told AFP. “We have to be careful that their criminal actions — rape, massacres and serious human rights abuses — are not legitimised.”

Caricom, in a statement with its partners and the United Nations, said that Haiti’s new transitional presidential council would have seven voting members, including from political parties, the private sector and a civil society coalition.

“This is a way forward,” the UN secretary-general’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

“It is important that the international community, Caricom and others support this path, and we hope that will lead to better days for the Haitian people.” — AFP

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