The U.N. Security Council is urging Haiti's transitional government to hold elections by early next month.
Meeting in emergency session Friday, the Security Council showed its impatience at the repeated postponement of elections in Haiti. The vote, originally set for November, has been delayed several times due to disorganization, logistical failures and security concerns.
In a presidential statement, the Security Council called on Haiti's interim government to promptly set a new date for the vote, no later than February seventh.
Council president for January, Tanzanian Ambassador Augustine Mahiga, said international observers are worried about reports that organized gangs are creating public panic to disrupt the electoral process.
"There's a genuine concern that the security situation especially in Port au Prince and district of Cite Soleil is very precarious and this is causing panic in the general population and it may undermine confidence of people in police force," he said. "It could as well undermine confidence in the entire electoral process."
Haiti, one of the world's poorest countries, has been plagued by violence. In an interview with Reuters Friday, the country's police chief blamed Colombian drug dealers for a wave of pre-election kidnappings that has turned Port-au-Prince into one of the region's most lawless cities. He said it is clear that the increase in violence and kidnappings is in part politically motivated.
Ambassador Mahiga noted that more than 200 kidnappings were reported in Haiti in December, more than double the number of the previous month. He said the Security Council is determined to ensure that gangs are not allowed to disrupt the electoral process.
"We know in Haiti there are gangs, and these gangs might have different motives, but they are violent gangs, who may want to postpone elections, but the fact that Security Council is now determined to permit whatever technical and logistical difficulties to be overcome, we hope this political hesitation or self-interest will get the correct message," he said. "We are saying elections have to be held not later than the seventh of February."
The Security Council sent a U.N. peacekeeping mission to Haiti in June, 2004, and the world body has played a lead role in technical and logistical preparations for the national elections. Haitian officials, however, have blamed the United Nations and the Organization of American States for the delays in voting.
They say only about half the 3.5 million registered voters have received identity cards, and that there are not enough polling centers in rural areas.
Winners of the election will replace the interim government installed after former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in the face of political turmoil in February, 2004.