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Ongoing Violence Poses Numerous Challenges for Haiti

A top U. N. official says at least 20 people, including children, have been killed in recent violence in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Experts on Haiti express deep concern about the current situation in the impoverished nation.

The communications chief for the U.N. stabilization mission in Haiti, David Wimhurst, says the deadly violence erupted late last week between gangs in the slums of the capital.

He told VOA the United Nations has increased its patrols, and although the situation remains calm, there is reason to be concerned about the latest violence.

"I think this is an incident that was shocking, but is something also that might,we fear, signal the beginning of a more generalized security situation that's going to turn negative," he said.

He says securing the poorest areas in Port-au-Prince remains a challenge.

"We don't have control of these slum areas, and this is the main problem, and the government doesn't have the ability through its police force or through its justice system to effectively crack down on these sorts of gang operations," he explained.

Jean-Yves Clemenzo is a communication delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Haiti. He has been working in Port-au-Prince for a year.

"The last two weeks have been a little bit more difficult," he said, " there has been again a rise of violence, so it's more difficult to live now in Port-au-Prince. The basic humanitarian conditions haven't changed so much in one year, there are still basic needs to be fulfilled for the majority of the population in Port-au-Prince."

Clemenzo says it is calm outside the capital, but life remains difficult throughout the entire country. He said the elections earlier this year, in which Rene Preval became president, were a positive step and now Haiti needs the support of international donors.

"I think what is important now is that countries don't forget Haiti, there have been elections in February, many people took part in the elections," he said. "They elected a president, it's a very good sign. Now Haitian people need help and the international community has to support Haiti."

Philip Brenner, who is a professor of international relations at American University in Washington D.C., says health and security issues of Haiti should be of concern beyond that country's borders.

"You have disease that is becoming very rampant in Haiti, diseases that get transmitted and as people migrate, they'll migrate to the rest of the hemisphere," he said. "It becomes in everyone's interest to try to stabilize the situation of such extraordinary poverty."

Wimhurst, meanwhile points out that reform is needed in Haiti's judicial and police system, and the country needs investment and a long-term commitment for development.

"Until the situation in the poorest areas of the city is rectified, in the sense that the conditions in which people live, in which gangs flourish can be changed by investment by providing minimum standards of health and water, providing

electricity, and reengaging the economy so jobs are created, all of which are big pieces of a large puzzle, this situation is going to continue," he said.

An international donors conference for Haiti is set for July 25 in Port-au-Prince.