Peacekeepers accused after killings in Haiti

Independent witnesses say up to 23 people were killed during the raid and that many were shot in the head. Video footage seen by The Independent shows the bodies of many killed in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and contains testimony from witnesses claiming the victims were killed by "blue helmets" ­ common parlance for UN peacekeepers.

In a statement, the UN Mission in Haiti (Minustah) said: "[UN forces] did not target civilians in the operation ... but the nature of such missions in densely populated urban areas is such that there is always a risk of civilian casualties. Minustah deeply regrets any injuries or loss of life during its operation."

Yesterday, the most senior UN peacekeeping official appealed to the Security Council for specialised troops for Haiti ­ admitting the forces available were not trained for such raids.

The footage of the aftermath of the 6 July raid in the Cité Soleil slum was taken by a team led by Haitian-based journalist Kevin Pina. Pina said: " Numerous witnesses said the victims were killed by UN forces ­ the Haitian National Police (HNP) were not even there. I think the fact the UN did not bring a single doctor or ambulance with them on this mission is extraordinary ­ surely you would do that whether you were targeting criminal gangs or civilians? It is interesting that so many victims were shot in the head. I think the reason they did not bring ambulances is that they were not shooting to wound, they were shooting to kill."

The raid took place against a backdrop of violence in Haiti ahead of autumn elections. Authorities say much of the violence is perpetrated by criminal gangs with links to the former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

But since the ousting of the democratically elected Mr Aristide last year, human rights groups have detailed repression of his supporters by the US-backed interim government and the HNP. A report by the human rights programme at Harvard Law School said there were also "credible allegations of human rights abuses perpetrated by Minustah".

Minustah said its dawn raid, involving more than 400 troops, targeted the gang leader known as "Dread Wilme", who is accused of murder and kidnapping. He and four alleged associates were killed.

But other independent witnesses support Pina's evidence that civilians werealso killed. David Welsh, of the US Labour/Human Rights Delegation to Haiti, was at a conference in Port-au-Prince that weekend. Delegation members interviewed witnesses and filmed the bodies of victims. He described the shooting as a "massacre": "Based on witnesses' testimony and the number of bodies we were able to confirm, we believe that at least 23 people were killed," he said.

Among the dead were four-year-old Stanley Romelus, who was shot in the head; his mother, Sonia, and his one-year-old brother, Nelson. The boy's father said they were killed in their house after UN forces threw smoke grenades. His testimony is to be included in a documentary Pina is producing based on the footage.

Christophe Fournier, Médecins Sans Frontières, which has a clinic close to Cité Soleil, said: "On that day we treated 27 people for gunshot wounds. Of them, around 20 were women under the age of 18."

Minustah claims it received "unconfirmed information" that criminal gangs were seen killing civilians after its operation. It said: "Subsequently, these elements attributed these atrocious acts to Minustah."

At UN headquarters yesterday, Jean-Marie Guehenno, undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, asked for specialist troops for Haiti. "I have to acknowledge the forces we have do not have the kind of very specialised capacity ... that makes absolutely sure that there will be zero civilian casualties in a densely populated environment."

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