United Nations officials have agreed to extend the peacekeeping mission in Haiti as part of a plan to add more international police. VOA's Brian Wagner recently visited the Caribbean nation, where officials say the renewed efforts will help improve policing on Haiti's borders and in their national waters.
More than three years into their mission, United Nations officials in Haiti are seeking to reform their 9,100-member peacekeeping team to better address ongoing criminal and security problems.
The Security Council agreed unanimously Monday to extend the U.N. mission another year, as it works to strengthen Haiti's government. The resolution calls on the mission to reduce the number of military troops and deploy an additional 140 international police officers, increasing the size of the police contingent to nearly 2,100.
U.N. military forces have been credited with restoring peace to even some of the most violent parts of Haiti, by carrying out raids and other military operations.
In a recent interview, J. Carter, head of civil affairs for the U.N. mission, says the focus now is on conducting more police operations.
"Particularly with regard to border control, customs, immigration, things of that nature," he said. "That's one of the insecurities that remains, is Haiti's lack of control of its own borders and territories."
Illegal drug networks have been able to take advantage of weaknesses in Haiti's security forces in recent years to ship contraband from South America to traffickers in the United States and elsewhere. Also, insecurity along Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic has been a source of tension between the neighbors on the island of Hispaniola.
Carter says cooperation between international police and Haitian officers already has produced results, such as the arrest of several alleged drug kingpins this year. He says such efforts are helping to restore confidence in the nation's government.
"The people are beginning to see results too, and that counts," he said. "Because that provides a certain conviction and imbues credibility to the [Haitian] government's efforts."
Some Haitian lawmakers, however, have criticized the joint police efforts, especially agreements that have allowed U.S. anti-drug agents to make arrests on Haitian soil. They say such operations violate Haiti's sovereignty.
But deputy Jean Dorsonee Verrettes from the northern Artibonite region, says international support is needed until Haiti's police force can function on its own. He says Haiti's police force still has some weaknesses and lacks key resources. Verrettes says the support of international partners may help overcome some of those problems.
For months, the U.N. mission has been working with Haiti's police force to rebuild its infrastructure and reform its training program for new officers. The top U.N. police official, Richard Warren, says one major goal is to combat the perception of corruption that has plagued Haiti's police for decades.
"The change in reality is to move the orientation of the police service from one that serves the state to one that serves the people," he said. "If we can do that and it can be sustainable in Haiti, I think we have a bright future for the police."
Warren says 1,400 Haitian police officers have completed the new training program, and officials hope to graduate classes of similar size each year through 2011.
The current mandate of the U.N. mission in Haiti allows it to operate until next October, and it is unclear if officials will extend it further.
Haiti's President Rene Preval has praised the assistance from the U.N. and other international partners. In a speech last month at the United Nations, he noted that the presence of foreign troops remains difficult for many Haitians to accept, and he suggested the U.N. mission cannot remain forever.