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Multinational force in Haiti 'committed' to curbing instability, Kenyan leader says

Members of a U.N.-backed force led by Kenya stand at police headquarters ahead of a press conference in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 8, 2024.
Members of a U.N.-backed force led by Kenya stand at police headquarters ahead of a press conference in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 8, 2024.

The leader of the multinational force led by Kenya tasked with curbing gang violence in Haiti expressed determination Monday to ensure democratic elections and prevent further instability in the country. However, he did not take questions during his nationally broadcast briefing.

Kenyan forces arrived in Haiti last month after months of violence in which gangs gained control of up to 80% of the capital, Port-au-Prince, contributing to Prime Minister Ariel Henry's resignation.

“We have a job that we are committed to do,” Kenyan officer Godfrey Otunge told The Associated Press. “We intend to achieve this by working closely with Haitian authorities and local and international partners dedicated to a new Haiti.”

The United Nations-backed police mission, supported with over $300 million from the United States, has faced scrutiny from the start.

"This mission is essential to provide assistance to the Haitian national police, which has been under immense strain over the past few months," Isis Jaraud-Darnault, a political coordinator for France at the United Nations, said in a statement last week. The mission's work "is essential to restore security in Haiti and create the security conditions conducive to the holding of elections."

At home, Kenyan police faced allegations of human rights abuses, particularly during recent protests. Haiti's new prime minister, Garry Conille, described foreign intervention as a mixed blessing, highlighting concerns about sovereignty and cultural respect.

Despite concerns, some Haitians expressed optimism about the international mission.

Kenya committed to contributing 1,000 police officers to the international force, with 200 initially deployed.

Conille told the U.N. Security Council that more personnel would arrive soon, with contributions from countries including the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin, Chad and Jamaica, totaling 2,500 personnel.

Appointed in May by a transitional council, Conille aims to stabilize Haiti before elections scheduled for February 2026. U.S. officials urged him to prioritize establishing an electoral council.

Haitian Police Chief Normil Rameau emphasized the need to reclaim gang-controlled areas, restore police presence and aid displaced Haitians. Over half a million people have fled their homes because of gang violence.

Rameau and other officials withheld operational details to avoid alerting gangs.

In 2022, Haiti sought international assistance to combat gangs, prompting a call from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Kenya responded and volunteered to lead the mission in July 2023. But the deployment faced repeated delays because of litigation brought by opponents of the government's plan and a surge of violence that hit Haiti particularly hard in March.

That violence led to more unrest and a rise in vigilantism.

"To confront the multidimensional crisis affecting Haiti, we need to address the causes of instability, particularly in terms of governance," Jaraud-Darnault said.

On Sunday, Haiti marked the third anniversary of the assassination of President Jovenel Moise.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and other news agencies.

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