UN plans rapid action force to help end Haiti security crisis

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UN Secretary-General António Guterres submitted a letter to the Security Council on Sunday proposing the immediate activation of a rapid action force following Haiti’s call for help as gangs and protesters paralyze the country.

The letter, which has been seen by The Associated Press but has not been made public, said the rapid action force would be deployed by one or more member states to assist the Haiti National Police. This force would “remove the threat posed by armed gangs and provide immediate protection to critical infrastructure and services”, while ensuring the “free flow of water, fuel, food and medical supplies from major ports and airports. to communities and health care facilities”. .”

The letter also states that the secretary-general may deploy “additional UN capabilities to support ceasefire or humanitarian arrangements.”

However, the letter notes that “a return to more robust United Nations engagement in the form of peacekeeping remains a last resort if no decisive action is taken urgently by the international community in accordance with the options described and if the national law enforcement capacity proves unable to reverse the deterioration of the security situation.

The letter suggests that the rapid action force be phased out as Haitian police regain control of infrastructure, and that two options could follow: “including through joint strike operations, isolation and confinement across the country.”

The letter notes that if member states do not move forward with bilateral support and funding, the UN operation may be an alternative.

“However, as noted, a return to UN peacekeeping was not the authorities’ preferred option,” it said.

The letter also indicates that the Security Council may decide to strengthen the police component of the current United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti, known as BINUH, and call on member states to provide additional equipment and training. local police, which are understaffed and under-resourced. Only about a third of the approximately 13,000 are operational in a country of more than 11 million people.

The secretary-general said the matter was urgent, noting that Haiti “is facing an outbreak of cholera amid a dramatic deterioration in security that has crippled the country.”

On Friday, the Haitian government released an official document signed by Prime Minister Ariel Henry and 18 senior officials asking international partners for “the immediate deployment of a specialized armed force, in sufficient quantity”, to stop the “criminal actions” of the gangs. armed. Across the country.

The request comes nearly a month after one of Haiti’s most powerful gangs surrounded a key fuel terminal in the capital of Port-au-Prince, preventing the distribution of some 10 million gallons of diesel and of gasoline and over 800,000 gallons of kerosene stored on site. .

Tens of thousands of protesters have also blocked streets in Port-au-Prince and other major cities in recent weeks, impeding traffic, including tanker trucks and ambulances, as part of an ongoing demonstration against soaring gasoline, diesel and kerosene prices.

Gas stations and schools are closed, while banks and grocery stores operate on a limited schedule.

Protesters are calling for the resignation of Henry, who announced in early September that his administration could no longer afford to subsidize fuel.

The worsening paralysis has led to dwindling supplies of fuel, water and other basics amid a cholera outbreak that has killed several people and sickened dozens more, officials from health warning that the situation could worsen due to a lack of drinking water and cramped living conditions. . More than 150 suspected cases have been reported, with the UN warning that the outbreak is spreading beyond Port-au-Prince.

The outbreak comes as UNICEF warns that three-quarters of major hospitals in Haiti cannot provide essential services “due to the fuel crisis, insecurity and looting”.

The U.S. Embassy granted temporary leave to staff and urged U.S. citizens to leave Haiti immediately.

Haitian officials have not specified the type of armed forces they seek, with many local leaders rejecting the idea of ​​UN peacekeepers, noting that they have been accused of sexual assault and initiating a cholera epidemic that killed nearly 10,000 people during their 13-year mission to Haiti that ended five years ago.

A Brazilian general and former UN peacekeeping mission chief who declined to be identified because he is still involved with the UN told The Associated Press over the weekend that any peacekeeping mission peace would be established following a decision by the Security Council if it considers that there is a risk for the international community Security.

The UN would send a team for the assessment and then the Security Council would decide if the money is available and which countries would be available to volunteer. He noted that a military mission could cost between $600 million and $800 million and would have 7,000 military components, plus police and civilian components.

“It’s an ongoing crisis, which makes short-term solutions difficult,” he said. “There is a need for international help, there is no doubt about that.”

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