Official: Military force of UN mission will likely go soon

The multinational military component of the United Nations' lengthy peacekeeping operation in Haiti will likely be phased out soon, said a senior official with the world body.

Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, who has been in Haiti for days leading an assessment of the much-criticized mission, told reporters at the U.N. base in Port-au-Prince that a rotating military force is "likely to disappear in the relatively near future."

"I think that when we look at the situation in this country compared to what it was a few years ago, we have made a lot of progress. Security is not perfect, but I think it is much better," he said.

However, Ladsous stressed that current talks are focusing on a "reconfiguration" of the operation here since 2004 and not a "complete erasure" of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, which is known by its French acronym MINUSTAH.

Ladsous believes there's still work to be done, including building up the country's justice system and fighting corruption. His assessment reports will be sent to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has to make recommendations to the U.N. Security Council for decisions about a future U.N. presence by March 15.

The Security Council is expected to make its decision in April. It's been drawing down the multinational force in Haiti for years.

U.N. peacekeepers arrived here in 2004 to achieve order following a bloody three-week uprising that toppled then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Over 12 years later, nearly 5,000 troops and police are deployed at an annual cost of some $346 million.

For years, the U.N. force provided the only real security in Haiti, fighting gangs and cracking down on kidnappers. But there's been significant focus on professionalizing and beefing up the Haitian National Police, which now has about 14,000 officers for a nation of roughly 11 million people.

But it's also been one of the U.N.'s more beleaguered peacekeeping missions, facing intense scrutiny for years. Some peacekeepers have been accused of rape and other abuse, of using excessive force and of inadvertently introducing cholera because of inadequate sanitation at a base used by troops from Nepal. Haiti has grappled with the globe's worst outbreak of the waterborne disease ever since and it is now considered endemic, meaning it is an illness that occurs regularly.

This week's visit by the U.N.'s peacekeeping chief comes as U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley has made reform of peacekeeping operations a top priority. Diplomats have recently told The Associated Press that Haiti was one operation Haley has spoken about winding up.

Ladsous said he had no comment about recent critical comments from Washington officials.

"All this will be the subject of very thorough discussions in the near future," he said.


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