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Violence Resurges in Haitian Capital - 2004-10-07

Violence has returned in Haiti's capital, where armed gangs have taken to the streets in the slums of Port-au-Prince. The Haitian National Police, backed by U.N. troops, are struggling to regain control of the city.

Enraged supporters of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide patrol the narrow alleyways of downtown slums, torching cars, blocking roads, and ransacking stores. Gunfights and machetes have taken the lives of at least 19 people and wounded over 46. Since Thursday, three police and one former army officer were decapitated in what the violent protesters are calling Operation Baghdad.

Government officials blame the violence on armed factions of Mr. Aristide's Lavalas party, known locally as chimeres.

The chimeres are calling for the return of Mr. Aristide, who was ousted by rebel leaders earlier this year. They are also demanding an end to the U.N. stabilization mission to Haiti, which they call an invasion.

Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has criticized the U.N. mission, saying U.N. troops have done little to stem the rising violence.

General Amerigo Salvador commands the Brazilian forces, which form the largest contingent of U.N. troops. He says his primary mission has been to disarm the gangs and former military officers. But lack of personnel has been a major problem.

General Salvador says that the U.N. mission was planned for 6,700 troops, but to date, only 2,700 have arrived. He says his troops are overstretched, they can not be everywhere at once.

On Wednesday, Haitian police and U.N. troops moved into the slum of Belair, arresting over 75 people. Yet no guns were recovered in the arrest, prompting U.N. officials to say that arms have been hidden in other parts of the city.

Former rebel leader Ravix Remissainthe issued an ultimatum to Haitian authorities to control the violence. Otherwise, he says, the rebels will launch their own operation against the Lavalas loyalists.