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UN Assessment Team to Arrive in Haiti Wednesday - 2004-03-09

A United Nations assessment team arrives in Haiti Wednesday to prepare for peacekeeping operations due to begin in June. Security in the Haitian capital remains a critical concern.

Amid fears of further political violence in Haiti, a U.N. security officer arrived in Port-au-Prince Tuesday. Spokesman Fred Eckhard says the officer's job is to ensure the safety of several dozen experts who will begin arriving Wednesday to do a needs assessment, both for peacekeeping and for future U.N. humanitarian missions to Haiti. "The 16 people that are expected to leave tomorrow are the first wave of what we think will be three waves. So, today, it was just a person to assess security, and prepare for this team of 16 that is leaving tomorrow. The second wave, which we expect will be made up of U.N. agencies, funds and programs, will probably go in over the weekend, but we're watching the security situation day-by-day," he said.

Mr. Eckhard said a third wave will likely arrive in Port-au-Prince early next week, along with the secretary general's special envoy, Reginald Dumas.

The Security Council recently authorized the dispatch of a multi-national interim force to maintain order, following the departure of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. That force, a few thousand strong, is already on the ground. It will be replaced after three months by the U.N. peacekeepers.

The assessment team arriving this week and next is expected to do most of its work in Port-au-Prince, where security is considered acceptable, though still dangerous. U.N. emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland said other parts of the country remain off-limits to for international staff. "Today, the security situation remains volatile, with the security vacuum in many provinces. Over three-thousand prisoners were released over the past two weeks. In Port Liberte, prisoners recently freed are reportedly in charge of security. In Port-au-Prince, the security situation leaves a lot to be desired as well," he said.

Despite these security concerns, U.N. officials make clear they intend to stay in Haiti for the long term. Secretary General Kofi Annan said Tuesday, the international effort to rebuild Haiti's police, judiciary and other major institutions will probably take more than 10 years.

Speaking to reporters on a visit to the Canadian capital, Ottawa, Mr. Annan said the international community must learn from the mistakes it made a decade ago in previous efforts to help Haiti. That assistance was widely seen to have been wasted. Haiti is considered the poorest country in the western hemisphere.