Bodies found in Haitian suburb as gang violence rages for third week

Bodies found in Haitian suburb as gang violence rages for third week
Bodies found in Haitian suburb as gang violence rages for third week

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Paramedics carry the body of a person who was among a dozen killed in the street by gang members in an affluent suburb of Haiti’s capital. — AFP pic

PORT-AU-PRINCE, March 19 — Fourteen bodies were found in an affluent suburb of Haiti’s capital yesterday, as international efforts accelerated to fill a political vacuum created by weeks of gang violence that has forced the impending departure of the prime minister.

Local residents told AFP they did not know the circumstances of the deaths but said that the Laboule and Thomassin neighbourhoods, in the suburb of Petion-Ville, had been under attack by what they said were armed criminals since dawn.

Witnesses said gang members attacked a bank, a gas station and homes in the area. Gunfire continued to ring out in Petion-Ville in the afternoon.

“They came wearing balaclavas in their cars, on motorcycles, with their own ambulance, then they massacred the population of Petion-Ville,” said local resident Vincent Jean Robert.

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“I was on my motorcycle when they arrived and started shooting,” a motorcycle taxi driver named Cadet told AFP, while adding, “We don’t know if it’s bandits or the police who were behind this.”

He suspected that the victims were those who had been out late at night, “searching for something to eat for their children.”

Amid the violence Monday morning, a judge narrowly escaped an attack on his home, a relative told AFP.

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Haiti has been engulfed for three weeks in a gang uprising by well-armed groups saying they want to topple Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

Last week Henry agreed to step aside to allow the formation of an interim government, following pressure from neighbouring Caribbean countries, including the Caricom regional body, and the United States.

The situation remains dire even as Washington voiced hope Monday that a transitional body to lead the country, set up at a crisis meeting a week ago, could be ready “as soon as today” — though as of that evening nothing had been announced.

“I understand that Haitian stakeholders are very close to finalising membership and remain in active discussions with Caricom leaders as it relates to the makeup of the Transitional Presidential Council,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters in Washington.

“The announcement of this council, we believe, will help pave the way for free and fair elections and the deployment of the Multinational Security Support Mission,” he said, referring to a UN-backed, Kenyan-led force that aims to bring stability to Haiti.

‘Famine and malnutrition’

The council, which will include seven voting and two observer members representing a broad spectrum in Haiti and its diaspora, will be in charge of naming an interim government before elections, which have not been held since 2016.

Ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on Haiti Monday, deputy US ambassador Robert Wood had told journalists that a decision on the make-up of the transitional council was “close.”

After the closed-door session, Jamaican Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith noted that talks “are progressing well,” though she added “it’s a difficult process”.

The Security Council meeting came as the United Nations announced that the first helicopter flights had begun in an air bridge set up between Haiti and neighbouring Dominican Republic to deliver aid.

Unicef, the United Nations’ children’s agency, offered a bleak assessment of the situation in the country over the weekend, saying Sunday it was “almost like a scene out of ‘Mad Max’”, and warning people were suffering “famine and malnutrition” with aid groups unable to gain access.

That same day, a curfew was extended until Wednesday in the Ouest department, which includes Port-au-Prince. A state of emergency is set to end April 3.

Several countries including the US and European Union member states have evacuated diplomatic personnel from Haiti due to the crisis.

Meanwhile, efforts are continuing to organise Nairobi’s security mission to back up Haiti’s overwhelmed police force. — AFP

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