Gunfire erupted from a Haitian slum Wednesday a few blocks from a palace where U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was holding talks with the country’s interim president and prime minister.
Although the shots, which were apparently fired by anti-government insurgents, did not come close to the National Palace, Powell moved his talks to a different room for security reasons, officials said.
U.N. troops who have been patrolling Port-au-Prince, the impoverished capital, fired shots in return. A U.N. spokesman said no one was injured in the shooting. But the Agence France-Presse news service, quoting hospital sources, said four people, including two students and a physician, were hurt.
Powell, on his second visit to the island since the forced exile in February of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, said the shooting pointed to the need for an acceleration of the tardy buildup of United Nations troops.
“They have to forcefully take on these armed individuals of the kind who were firing this morning,” said Powell, who leaves his job next month.
The United States played a key role in the departure of Aristide, and U.S. officials have continued to help guide Haiti toward elections, anticipated next fall. But Aristide’s supporters, including many in the Bel Air slum where the shooting occurred, have refused to disarm and have continued running battles with those who pushed Aristide from office.
Damian Onses Cardona, a spokesman for the U.N. troops, said the initial shots came from a car passing through the slum. Members of a 125-member Jordanian police force rushed to the scene and fired in the air.
“Powell was at no time in danger,” Cardona said.