PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The U.N. Security Council (search) lands Wednesday in the capital of this shellshocked nation, making its first visit to a country scarred by gunfights and plagued with violence more than a year after the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (search).
The United Nations' year-old mission to stabilize Haiti (search) will come under close scrutiny during the four-day visit to the poorest country in the Americas. As Haitians discussed the security council's arrival this week, some offered tentative praise for the U.N. mission despite the grim conditions of life in the country.
After months of criticism, recent moves by peacekeepers against armed bands and in defense of political protesters have begun to generate some positive assessments.
"Honestly I didn't think they would come and save this country," said Guy Philippe, a leader of last year's rebellion against Aristide. "I think they're working now."
Still, many in Haiti and abroad continue to accuse the U.N. peacekeeping force, known by its French acronym MINUSTAH, of wrongs ranging from ineffectiveness to enabling political repression and murder.
Pro-Aristide organizer Charles Roger pointedly angrily Tuesday at the coffins of two young slumdwellers killed in recent gunbattles.
"This girl was 15, that guy was 25," Roger said. "It was MINUSTAH that allowed their deaths here."
The pro-Aristide Catholic Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste said the United Nations had generated goodwill among the poor this year by beginning to protect protesters from trigger-happy Haitian police. But police shootings of demonstrators last month brought back anger against U.N. forces, he said.
"The honeymoon they had for a short time with the people, they are losing it," he said.
U.S. Ambassador James Foley offered a mirror-image assessment, saying the U.N. mission had overcome a slow and disappointing start to begin producing positive results.
"It's got momentum, it's proven that it's willing to defend the Haitian people against lawless elements and it needs to finish the job," Foley said.
Over the weekend, U.N. civilian police advisers coordinated Haitian police operations that resulted in the shooting deaths of former Philippe ally Remissaninthe Ravix and one-time pro-Aristide gang leader Jean Rene Anthony, who officials said had joined forces against the police and United Nations.
The Haitian police, national government and U.N. civilian police held press conferences to tout the operation. Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue said Friday in a telephone interview from Florid that he would tell the Security Council conditions have improved dramatically.
"There is a world of difference in Haiti today," he said. "I will be very positive."
Diplomats from the 15 member nations are flying to Haiti 11 months after the council authorized a U.N. force of 6,700 troops and 1,622 international police as well as political and human rights experts to help stabilize the Caribbean nation. The Brazilian-led U.N. mission replaced a U.S.-led force that arrived after a three-week uprising led up to Aristide's departure on Feb. 29, 2004.
Aristide, now in exile in South Africa, has accused U.S. forces of kidnapping him when they put him on a U.S.-chartered plane out of the country, an accusation denied by the U.S. government.
More than 400 people have died since September in clashes among pro- and anti-Aristide street gangs, police, peacekeepers and ex-soldiers who helped oust Aristide.