|Haitian woman runs in front of a burning vehicle in Port-au-Prince, Friday|
Two U.N. peacekeepers were shot and wounded on Thursday in Cite Soleil, a vast slum in the capital of Port-au-Prince. The soldiers were patrolling the slum when they were hit by automatic gunfire by armed gangs.
This is the second attack on U.N. troops in two weeks. Late last week, gunmen opened fire on a peacekeeper and two Red Cross volunteers in front of a hospital in the same slum.
The U.N. troops, known locally by their French acronym MINUSTAH, were deployed in Haiti after the exile of the former president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, in February 2004.
Since their deployment, the U.N. forces have faced a rising wave of gun violence in the Haitian capital.
Automatic gunfire between gangs, police and U.N. troops in the downtown area has kept businesses closed and thousands of children out of school since late September. In the last nine months, over 700 people have died in violence.
In recent weeks, a wave of kidnappings has struck the city. As many as 10 people are kidnapped per day by armed gangs trying to raise money to buy arms. Ransoms have been reported in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. In
the past week, four foreigners were reportedly kidnapped.
The increasing violence forced the U.S. embassy to withdraw its non-essential personnel three weeks ago. The Peace Corps suspended operations in Haiti this week, evacuating 16 volunteers from the Caribbean nation.
The Haitian population has grown critical of the U.N. troops for their failure to reinstate stability. Bumper stickers call the U.N. troops tourists, and banners line the streets asking the MINUSTAH to restore peace so that the population can return to work.
But the U.N. chief of Communication and Public Information, Toussaint Kongo-Doudou, says that the troops are working hard to control the situation, particularly in the city's vast slums.
"To counter the gangs requires strong action, and we've been taking strong action. When the gangs strongly attack, they are answering back. And we are going to keep the pressure until we get these people out. People in the slums, poor neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, particularly Cite Soleil and Bel Air, are taken hostage. The population there have nothing to do with the violence," he said.
The U.N. mandate to keep 6,700 soldiers in Haiti runs out on June 24. The U.N. Security Council is expected to renew the mandate, and may even recommend increasing the number of troops to maintain order in Haiti's upcoming elections in November.