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UN Says Haitian Riots Could Undermine Progress

The head of the U.N.'s stabilization mission in Haiti says there has been real progress on several key fronts, but it remains fragile and reversible, as the current unrest over rising food prices has demonstrated. From United Nations headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Hédi Annabi told the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council that recent deadly riots in parts of Haiti over rising food prices also appear to have a political dimension, and could undermine the government as well as the public's confidence.

"We have seen a rise in anti-government demonstrations, with a particular focus on the recent dramatic increase in the cost of living. … Because of the violence that has occurred in the past, the Haitian public is particularly sensitive to threats of instability," Annabi said.

Annabi said the 10,000-strong U.N. force (MINUSTAH) needs to remain vigilant and respond robustly so these demonstrations are not exploited by people with a political agenda or by criminal gangs.

In his briefing, the secretary-general's special representative also told the council that any lasting progress will require a minimal level of political consensus and advances in socio-economic conditions.

And while security is significantly better overall, he warned that kidnappings have again been on the rise and there are signs that criminal gangs may be working to reorganize. He noted that the national police force has grown to more than eight thousand, but it is still far short of the 14,000 required for a country the size of Haiti.

Annabi said the U.N. stabilization mission must stay the course and help Haiti escape the destructive cycles of the past.

"We need to work together to ensure that this opportunity is seized, that the country's emerging stability is consolidated, and that firm foundations are laid for a better future," Annabi said.

In a statement, the Security Council reaffirmed its support for the government of Haiti and the $500 million a year U.N. mission there. The council noted that it is the Haitian government's primary responsibility to stabilize the country, but it recognized the importance of sustained international support toward achieving that end.