Annan Seeks to Strengthen U.N. Police in Haiti with SWAT Forces

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Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for the U.N. police force in Haiti to be strengthened with elite SWAT teams and expert advisers to help promote security and counter an upsurge in kidnapping and gang violence.

In a 20-page report to the Security Council, Annan said Tuesday that the recent election of a democratic government "provides a unique opportunity for Haiti to emerge from a cycle of instability and violence towards recovery and development." But he cited a sharp deterioration in the security situation since early July, especially kidnappings by armed groups.

"Crime, in particular kidnappings and gang violence, remain a serious destabilizing factor despite an initial reduction as a result of the unilateral truce observed by armed gangs following the victory of President (Rene) Preval," Annan said.

"The security situation continues to be worrying and destabilizing, in particular the crime situation in the capital, as the sources of instability still exist and the national security capacity to address them remains inadequate," he said. "Illicit trafficking in weapons and drugs remains an obstacle to successfully fighting crime, impunity an corruption."

Annan's report was issued as he was about to head to Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Preval was sworn in on May 14, replacing Haiti's interim government which came to power after a violent rebellion toppled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.

Annan said the recent upsurge in criminal activity shows that the causes of the violence that toppled Aristide "still exist and that substantial security threats remain."

As a top priority, he called for the establishment of the rule of law in Haiti and an overhaul of the legal, judicial and prison systems. The rule-of-law institutions "remain largely dysfunctional," prisons are overcrowded, and "the independence of the judiciary remains problematic," he noted.

"Popular confidence in the Haitian National Police has been shaken by criminal behavior and the brutality of some of its members," Annan said.

"In general," he said, "the Haitian National Police is understaffed, inadequately trained and suffers from a lack of discipline and respect for the command structure. It is also infiltrated by criminal elements."

Annan said the 1,000 international police in the U.N. force "need to be strengthened with SWAT-qualified personnel and equipment ... as well as with expert advisers in counter-kidnapping and anti-gang operations."

Given the uncertainties and the fragility of the overall security situation, Annan recommended that the Security Council maintain the strength of the current U.N. force in Haiti, which has a 7,500-strong ceiling.

He said the human rights situation in Haiti was a cause for concern, singling out extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, armed robberies, extortion and general intimidation continued,"

Annan urged donors to provide urgent and generous support to Haitian authorities, who have presented an ambitious program for the next five years to modernize the country, strengthen democratic institutions and promote economic development.