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Kenyan force in Haiti says ‘no room for failure’ in curbing gang violence

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Haiti’s main international airport reopens after gang violence prompted closure
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The head of the Kenya-led multinational force tasked with curbing gang violence in Haiti said on Monday “there’s no room for failure” and that the United Nations-backed police mission was committed to ensuring democratic elections in the Caribbean nation.

The nationally broadcast news conference was the first public comment from the Kenyan force, though the briefing did not take any questions from the media.

Still, major questions remain about the the Kenyan force, which arrived late last month in Haiti — months after powerful gangs seized control of most of the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and caused the prime minister’s resignation.

“We have a job that we are committed to do,” Kenyan officer Godfrey Otunge said. “We intend to achieve this by working closely with Haitian authorities and local and international partners dedicated to a new Haiti.”

The U.N.-backed mission, to which the United States has pledged over $300 million in support, has been questioned from the start. At home, Kenyan police have long been accused by watchdogs and witnesses of human rights abuses, including in recent protests.

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Haiti’s medical system nears collapse

Haiti’s new Prime Minister Garry Conille has called the history of foreign intervention in his country a “mixed bag” that has included human rights abuses and a “lack of respect for sovereignty and local culture.”

Some in Haiti, however, have welcomed the new mission with hope.

Kenya has pledged 1,000 police to the international police force — 200 initially arrived — and Conille last week told the U.N. Security Council that the next contingent will be arriving “very soon.” Later, they will be joined by police from the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin, Chad and Jamaica. The force will total 2,500 personnel.

A transitional council appointed Conille as the new prime minister in May. U.S. officials have urged him to prioritize establishing an electoral council as the country strives to rebuild its government. Conille is tasked with stabilizing the country in preparation for democratic elections in February 2026.

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Otunge said the new mission aims to “create security conditions conducive to holding free and fair elections.”

Click to play video: 'Haiti crisis: Surge in gang violence, food insecurity envelopes nation'
Haiti crisis: Surge in gang violence, food insecurity envelopes nation

Haitian police chief Normil Rameau also addressed the nation on Monday, saying the U.N.-backed mission is focused on reclaiming all areas from gang control, reinstating police presence in regions lacking authority and assisting Haitians displaced by the gangs to return home.

More than half a million people have been displaced by the violence.

Rameau and other Haitian authorities have not shared details of future operations, citing strategic reasons and saying they do not want to alert the gangs of their plans.

Haiti asked for an international force to combat gangs in 2022, and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres appealed for months for a country to lead the force before the Kenyans came forward.

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The gangs have grown in power since the July 7, 2021, assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and are now estimated to control up to 80% of Haiti’s capital. The surge in killings, rapes and kidnappings has led to a violent uprising by civilian vigilante groups.

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