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Gunfights Break Out in Haiti's Capital - 2004-10-12

In Haiti, armed gangs loyal to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide took to the streets on Monday, looting shops and burning cars. Two people died in gunfights. U.N. troops and national police are struggling to restore order throughout Port-au-Prince.

Heavy gunfire was heard throughout the city Monday, as Brazilian troops and Haitian police patrolled the downtown area in armored vehicles, trading fire with gunmen hiding in alleyways.

The newest wave of violence in the Haitian capital began on September 30, when Mr. Aristide's supporters mounted violent protests over his ouster. On Saturday, a Brazilian peacekeeper was shot and slightly wounded in a downtown slum.

Local officials have criticized the U.N. peacekeeping mission, saying it has not done enough to stem the violence. But U.N. spokesman Damien Cardona insists that the Haitian government, and not the peacekeepers, are primarily responsible for restoring order.

"The [U.N.] troops, they are not occupation forces, they do not have the mandate to arrest people, to be the police of this country, they are here to support the Haitian government and the police," he said. "So the leading actor, the one that does the arrests, [the one] that has to lead the country, and really knows the country is the local government, the national government and the national police."

Over the past week, clashes between police and criminal gangs have killed 45 people. Six people have been beheaded, three of them police officers. Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has blamed the beheadings on Aristides supporters, saying they are behind a campaign known as Operation Baghdad.

Yet Aristide supporters say that police and anti-Aristide gunmen are responsible for the violence, and criticize the Haitian government for not disarming the rebels who ousted Mr. Aristide in late February.

The U.S. State Department issued a new travel warning Friday, advising Americans against travel to Haiti except for emergency reasons.