Gangs strangle Haiti’s capital as deaths, kidnappings soar
A man shows journalists how his home was set on fire during clashes between armed gangs in the Butte Boyer neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, May 13, 2022. As police try to contain the gang violence, AP journalists visited the Butte Boyer neighborhood, where the smell of charred homes and decaying bodies spread for several blocks. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Gangs are fighting each other and seizing territory in the capital of Port-au-Prince with a new intensity and brutality. The violence has horrified many who feel the country is swiftly unravelling as it tries to recover from the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the United Nations prepares to debate the future of its longtime presence in Haiti.

Experts say the scale and duration of gang clashes, the power criminals wield and the amount of territory they control has reached levels not seen before.

Gangs have forced schools, businesses and hospitals to close as they raid new neighborhoods, seize control of the main roads connecting the capital to the rest of the country and kidnap victims daily, including eight Turkish citizens still held captive, authorities say.

Gangs also are recruiting more children than before, arming them with heavy weapons and forming temporary alliances with other gangs in attempts to take over more territory for economic and political gain ahead of the country’s general elections, said Jaime Vigil Recinos, the United Nations’ police commissioner in Haiti.

“It’s astonishing,” he told The Associated Press, noting that gang clashes are becoming protracted, ruthless affairs. “We are talking about something that Haiti hasn’t experienced before.”

At least 92 civilians and 96 suspected gang members were killed between April 24 and May 16, with another 113 injured, 12 missing and 49 kidnapped for ransom, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The office warned that the actual number of people killed “may be much higher.”

Gangs also gang-raped children as young as 10 and set fire to at least a dozen homes, forcing some 9,000 people to flee and seek temporary shelter in churches, public parks and shuttered schools, U.N. officials said.

Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network said some victims were decapitated while others were thrown into wells and latrines. Gangs posted pictures of the gruesome scenes on social media to further terrorize people. The network said that most women and girls were raped before being killed.

“Armed violence has reached unimaginable and intolerable levels in Haiti,” Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a May 17 statement.

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