Haiti's neighbors prepare for 'drastic escalation' in violence after jailbreak

Reuters | Updated: 05-03-2024 03:23 IST | Created: 05-03-2024 03:23 IST
Haiti's neighbors prepare for 'drastic escalation' in violence after jailbreak

Haiti's neighbors on Monday began shoring up their defenses and recalling embassy staff as a gang conflict in the Caribbean nation escalated and thousands fled fresh fighting. On Sunday, Haiti's de facto government issued a 72-hour state of emergency and imposed nightly curfews after armed men busted thousands from prison and a gang leader called for the ousting of Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti and last year deported tens of thousands of Haitians back across the border, said on Monday its defense minister was touring the border to supervise progress on a border fence and the "operational readiness of the military." The United States urged its citizens to leave Haiti "as soon as possible."

The violence erupted while Henry was absent. Doubts had risen over his whereabouts after he traveled to Kenya to seal a deal for the African nation to lead an international force to help fight the increasingly powerful gangs. A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said he believed Henry was returning to Haiti.

"We think it's important that he do so and he be allowed to do so," the spokesperson said. Gang leaders and protesters have called for the resignation of Henry, who is not elected and has postponed elections, citing the insecurity. Dominican President Luis Abinader did not answer when asked by reporters if he would allow Henry to travel back to Haiti via the land border. He added he would not allow refugee camps for Haitians in the Dominican Republic.

The neighboring Bahamas said it had called embassy staff back to New Providence, leaving just its charge d'affaires and two security attaches, while Mexico said its nationals should limit themselves to essential transit and stock up on water, fuel and non-perishables. Gangs have warned residents around Port-au-Prince to keep children home, although the Haitian government has stipulated that schools will stay open.

The International Organization for Migration said in just three days last week around 15,000 are estimated to have fled gunfire in the capital, many of them from makeshift camps in schools, hospitals and squares to which they had already been displaced. The United Nations estimated early this year some 300,000 had been forced to abandon their homes, fleeing indiscriminate killings, routine sexual violence, kidnappings and lootings as well-armed rival gangs fought over territory.

AID PAUSE The International Rescue Committee said that aid groups it works with had been forced to pause their work, given the security situation.

"The conflict has escalated drastically, with rival gangs coordinating to extend their control over Port-au-Prince, and violent acts are occurring in broad daylight," it said in a statement. The Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS) pushed for a faster international response, in coordination with the U.N. "It is irresponsible that the necessary measures and actions continue to be delayed," it said.

The U.N. last October ratified a plan to send in an international force, based on voluntary contributions from member states, to help Haitian police restore security - a year after it had been requested by Henry. However, a date for deployment has yet to be set. As of the end of February, the U.N. said five nations had formally pledged troops - The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin and Chad - and less than $11 million was deposited in its fund.

The largest public pledges for personnel come from Benin, which offered 1,500 people, according to the U.N., and Kenya, which late last week sealed a deal with Henry to lead the mission with some 1,000 police officers, after overcoming some legal setbacks. Haiti's national police has meanwhile shed staff, as poorly resourced officers face deadly clashes with gangs armed with assault weapons, believed to be largely trafficked from the United States.

Aid groups have urged the U.N.-backed force to prioritize securing routes to provide people with medical care and food, with millions of people facing acute hunger.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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