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US Partially Lifts Arms Embargo Against Haiti

The United States has partially lifted a 15-year-old arms embargo against Haiti, allowing the government to buy arms for police battling violent gangs. Haitian President Rene Preval had complained that the embargo was hampering police efforts to restore order.

The U.S. Embassy in the Haitian capital announced the easing of the U.S. arm embargo against the Caribbean island nation Wednesday. From now on, the Haitian government and the U.N. military mission in Haiti, Minustah, will be able to buy firearms, body armor and other items for police and United Nations peacekeepers.

"The arms embargo was partially lifted in recognition of Haiti's return to democracy and the new government's efforts, in close collaboration with the international community, the U.N. forces and Minustah to promote security and stability throughout the country," said Shaila Manyam, the press attache at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince.

Since former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted from power in 2004, Haiti has been plagued by frequent clashes between criminal gangs, ex-rebels and rogue police officers. Hundreds of people have been killed in the violence in Port-au-Prince. A force of about 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers provides the only real security in the capital.

The United States imposed the embargo in 1991, when President Aristide was overthrown for the first time. When he regained power, Mr. Aristide tried to have the weapons ban lifted, but the United States rejected his request. U.S. officials cited police ties to cocaine trafficking and the murder of government opponents.

Rene Preval, 63, took office in May, marking the return of democratic rule to Haiti. The soft-spoken leader has called on Haitians to renounce violence, so the country can create jobs, build roads and hospitals, and move forward without the presence of foreign troops.

Shaila Manyam at the U.S. Embassy says the country has come a long way.

"Since the arms embargo was imposed in 1991, it is clear that Haiti has made great strides towards democracy, stability and peace," she said. "This is definitely a step forward for Haiti to help restore security in the country."

Haiti's ambassador in Washington, Raymond Joseph, said he thought the move would be very helpful to Haiti's police. Until now, he said, they have been unable to match the firepower of the bandits, who are well equipped with heavy weapons.