U.N.: Latortue Must Disarm Militias in Haiti

Haiti's interim government must disarm illegal groups to extend its control throughout the country and prepare for elections next year, the U.N. Security Council said Friday.

Prime Minister Gerard Latortue (searchtook office March 17 as head of an interim government replacing President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (searchwho resigned in February and fled the country. The government has pledged to hold elections in 2005.

Latortue's government must confront armed groups who continue to act as unauthorized police and administrators in some Haitian cities, said a statement by council president, Spanish Ambassador Juan Antonio Yanez-Barnuevo (search).

"The Security Council stresses the urgency of disbanding and disarming all illegal armed groups" to extend its control and authority throughout the country, the statement said.

A U.N. peacekeeping force is helping the government neutralize the illegal groups, which include former Aristide loyalists and ex-soldiers who lost their positions when Aristide dissolved the army in 1995.

But the U.N. mission has only about 2,700 peacekeepers in Haiti -- or 40 percent of its authorized strength of 6,700 -- and has yet to deploy throughout the entire country to help the Haitian National Police maintain order.

The council also urged a wide national dialogue among all major political movements including Aristide's Lavalas party as a prelude to presidential and legislative elections in 2005.

More than 70 political parties and new forces have appeared in what an Aug. 30 report by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called a "highly fragmented" political landscape.