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Haiti Struggles with Gun Violence

Haiti continues to struggle with violence and instability in the wake of its upcoming presidential elections in February. Gun violence and kidnappings threaten the lives of thousands of people every day in the country's capital, Port-au-Prince. A leading humanitarian aid organization says the situation is only getting worse.

The international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders released a statement Thursday appealing for armed groups to respect the safety of civilians and aid workers, and allow the wounded safe access to medical care. Their appeal comes in response to a dramatic increase in gun violence in the city.

At a news conference in the capital on Thursday, the group's head of mission, Dr. Ali Besnaci, said that it is unacceptable that the recent wave of violence is claiming so many victims of civil society. He says he fears the violence will only get worse.

Since August of 2005, Doctors Without Borders has operated St. Catherine Hospital in the precarious slum of Cité Soleil, where more than 250,000 Haitians live in crowded shacks along the waterfront. For the residents of Cité Soleil, St. Catherine's is the only access they have to medical care.

Dr. Loris de Felippi, who directs the hospital, says that many of the victims are women and children. "We had a young girl with a bullet in the stomach, we just finished the intervention, and the situation is serious. And yesterday, this is really unbelievable, but we had an infant of 11 months with a bullet in the back," he said.

He says that while 34 people were wounded by gunfire in November, the hospital treated over 80 gunshot victims in December, and in the first two weeks of January alone, over 60 gunshot victims have been treated. Six of them have died. Dr. De Felippi says that these are the cases the hospital knows about. Many other people are wounded or die, and are never reported.

A five-year-old boy named Henri has been brought into the emergency room with a gunshot wound.

He says he was at home when bullets tore through his house and one hit him in his leg. A man near his house found him and carried him here. He says that he hopes his mother will come find him soon.

Since the departure of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004, security has been a major problem in Haiti, particularly in the capital. Armed gangs loyal to Mr. Aristide control many of the slums, and kidnappings have increased to epidemic levels.

The United Nations sent a peacekeeping mission of more than 7,000 troops in June of 2004 to stabilize the country. On Tuesday, two U.N. peacekeepers from Jordan were killed in Cité Soleil.