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Preval criticises UN military focus in Haiti

AP

Thursday, April 07, 2011    

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Haiti's outgoing president yesterday criticised the UN Security Council for being too slow to switch its peacekeeping mission in the Western hemisphere's poorest country from military operations to development and peacebuilding.

In his last address to the council, Rene Preval urged the UN's most powerful body to consider the effectiveness of its interventions "that have practically led to 11 years of military presence in a country that has no war.

Speaking at the council meeting attended by Colombia's president, former US president Bill Clinton and nine foreign ministers from Latin America and Spain, Preval said it was "sad to note" that in a quarter of a century he was the only president to finish two constitutional terms and "unfortunately, I am the only one ... who was never jailed or exiled".

Preval urged the country's newly elected president, pop star Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, legislative leaders and the opposition to work in a spirit of peace and cooperation.

But the outgoing leader focused mainly on the instability in Haiti due to the effects of "underdevelopment" and a culture of impunity dating back to the dictatorship of the Duvaliers. The instability, he said, was compounded by deadly hurricanes and the devastating earthquake in January 2010, which according to the government, killed 316,000 people and crippled much of the country's economy.

Since 1993, Preval said, the United Nations has had a series of peacekeeping missions in Haiti, "each time ... made necessary by instability created by the citizens themselves." This was true most recently in 2004, when there was the possibility of clashes with heavily armed groups, he said.

But he said when the danger of violent confrontation had passed, "peacekeeping operations did not quickly enough adapt to the new situation".

"Tanks, armed vehicles and soldiers should have given way to bulldozers, engineers, more police instructors" and experts on reforming the judicial and prison systems," Preval said.

When he was sworn in for a second term in May 2006, Preval said, "I emphasised this need — but I was unfortunately not heard".

Preval said he hoped the peacekeeping mission in Haiti would be reoriented, a view strongly backed by Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos, whose country holds the council presidency.

"We all agree with Preval," Edmond Mulet, head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, told AP. "This is what we all want, this is what we all need — for the peacekeeping mission to leave Haiti."

Mulet said the UN authorised "a surge" of troops and police to maintain stability after the quake and in June it will conduct a security study with the new government aimed at bringing the UN mission back to pre-earthquake staffing levels. Then, the UN hopes to continue downsising the mission "so by let's say 2015 or something we might be leaving".

Mulet said this was why the UN was urging international support for Haiti's initiative to improve the rule of law, which in addition to police, justice and corrections reforms means establishing civil and land registries, a construction code and tax system.

Santos said Colombia organised the council meeting because it wanted to renew efforts to stabilise and strengthen the rule of law in Haiti, given "the meager results achieved" so far.

"We must all commit to a different vision for rebuilding Haiti," Santos said.

A Security Council statement, read by Santos, didn't address Preval's criticism of the peacekeeping mission but reiterated "the need for security to be accompanied by social and economic development."

Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez criticised the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti for being too involved in Haitian affairs.

"Haiti does not need an occupation army," he said. "It is not, nor can it become, a United Nations protectorate."

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said rule-of-law reform must be a top priority for Haiti's next president, calling the judicial system "deeply dysfunctional" and prisons dangerously overcrowded.

Haiti's economy is also "on its knees" with public institutions barely able to deliver essential services and millions of Haitians still dependent on the assistance of non-governmental organizations to meet their basic needs, he said.

"As a result, citizens have lost confidence in the state and investors remain reluctant to do business in Haiti," Ban said.

Clinton, the UN special envoy to Haiti who also co-chairs the country's Reconstruction Commission, urged donors to pay the more than $5.6 billion pledged in March 2010 to rebuild Haiti, saying only 37 per cent of the money had been received.

Clinton said he was leaving for Haiti on Thursday to attend a commission meeting on Friday, and he predicted that if Preval's development program is implemented by the new government "you'll see a real pickup in activity in the next few months".

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