UN may be forced into Haiti pull-out

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The Independent Online
The United Nations may be blocked by China from extending its peace-keeping operations in Haiti beyond this month, despite signs that the country may be on the brink of another eruption of political violence.

Any collapse of the democratisation process in Haiti would be a grave set-back for President Bill Clinton before the US presidential elections. The restoration of peace to Haiti, which began with a military invasion in October 1994, has become a jewel in his foreign policy crown.

But unless agreement is reached inside the UN Security Council by 30 June on extending the authority of the UN mission in Haiti, the Secretary- General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, will be obliged to order the immediate withdrawal of all 1,800 remaining blue helmets.

Most Western diplomats believe that pulling out of Haiti prematurely could have disastrous consequences for the county and its efforts to establish democracy following its military dictatorship. Advisers to Mr Boutros-Ghali recently proposed maintaining the mission into next year.

The UN took over from the US military in March last year, with an initial force of 6,000 peace-keepers, including 2,400 Americans who have now withdrawn. When the force numbers had to be drastically reduced earlier this year because of Chinese pressure, Canada agreed to send an additional 750 soldiers at its own expense. They are unlikely to stay if the UN mission ends.

Diplomats in New York fear a diplomatic clashlater this month when the Security Council takes up the issue. China's opposition stems from an objection to Haiti's long-standing friendship with Taiwan, with which it has full diplomatic relations.

In an effort at compromise, Mr Boutros-Ghali this week proposed replacing the UN deployment with a reduced force of 1,200 troops, plus a contingent of 300 civilian policemen. The number of soldiers would be cut to 1,000 after three months.

The Haitian President, Rene Preval, who took over from Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February, had asked Mr Boutros Ghali to extend the UN mandate, citing a plot to destabilise the country.

Mr Preval, who is winding up a trip to Europe to seek badly-needed investment, said the fledgling Haitian police force was struggling to cope with a wave of violence which could get worse if the UN troops withdraw.

The President says the continued UN presence is vital to maintain the stability he needs to stimulate the economy. Despite the US intervention to restore democracy, Haiti remains the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, driving many to sail on leaky boats in the hope of slipping in to the US

Seventy-two Haitians were brought ashore in Florida last week after a rickety boat ran aground. Most will be returned home. Almost 700 Haitians have been intercepted so far this year by the US Coastguard. Unless they can make a legitimate claim to political asylum, rather than economic hardship, the Coastguard unloads them at the harbour of the capital, Port- au-Prince, gives them a couple of dollars for a meal and tells them not to try again. Out of desperation, many do.

The previous Haitian police, disbanded after the 1994 US intervention, were a branch of the military, headed by army officers, and traditionally worked hand-in-hand with the dreaded Tontons Macoutes militia.

During the past month, five police officers and a town mayor have been killed. After the mayor of Chansolme, Erla Jean-Francois, was shot dead, an angry mob stormed the police station and hacked to death seven prisoners at random.

Officials say most recent killings were by armed gangs which resurfaced after the last US troops left the country earlier this year, leaving security in the hands of police backed by blue helmets.

Diplomats are split as to whether the gang supports Mr Aristide, a former radical priest still by far the most popular man in Haiti, or is made up of ex-soldiers and Tontons Macoutes.

Police in Port-au-Prince said former army chief Prosper Avril, a collaborator of exiled dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, was on a list of people suspected of plotting to destabilise Mr Preval's government. Mr Avril fled to the Colombian embassy during the US intervention but quietly returned home recently.