PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – U.S. troops officially ended their peacekeeping mission in Haiti Friday, leaving the peacekeeping work to the United Nations at a time when the poor nation remains gripped by growing street violence and political infighting.
The chief executive of Air France in Haiti, Didier Mortet, became the latest victim of the violence Thursday when three men on a motorcycle rode up to his vehicle and shot him to death in Port-au-Prince. Robbery may have been the motive, authorities said.
“The availability of weapons and the climate of impunity continue to fuel insecurity and human rights violations in Haiti, as measures to stop this are nowhere to be seen,” Amnesty International said in a statement highly critical of the interim Haitian government and the U.S.-led multinational force brought in to re-establish order.
Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue told hundreds of military and civilian dignitaries at the U.S.-U.N. command transfer ceremony Friday that his government would in time begin to disarm the factions now racking the nation.
Latortue, who was handpicked to lead Haiti after a bloody revolt helped force President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to leave the country, said it would take the help of the international community to stabilize Haiti as it moves toward new elections next year.
But the London-based Amnesty International had harsh words for the U.S.-led Multinational Interim Force, made up of security forces from Canada, Chile and France, and branded it a “failure.”
Gen. James T. Hill, commander of the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, said at the change of command ceremony that a complete disarmament is impossible, and that true disarmament is up to Haitians.
“There is violence in Haiti and there will continue to be violence in Haiti, just as there’s violence in other parts of the world,” said Hill, whose command supervised the U.S. military operations in Haiti.
But U.S. military officers nevertheless claimed their three-month deployment here had been a success.
“To the interim government and the proud citizens of Haiti, our mission is complete,” said U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Ronald Coleman, commander of the interim force. “We have brought about stability, calmed your fears and facilitated the arrival of the U.N. forces.”
Nearly 2,000 U.S. troops – 1,500 of them Marines – started a gradual pullout from Haiti earlier this month when the new U.N. peacekeeping force began to arrive. They have been packing the last of their gear and heavy equipment and loading it all onto military transports bound for Camp Lejeune, N.C., home of the 8th Marine Regiment.
Four U.S. military officers and 25 American police officers will remain behind to help the security situation in Haiti, a U.S. State Department official said.
The 1,600 or so troops from France, Canada and Chile will stay on as part of the U.N. force, to be joined by troops from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay. At least 10 other nations have pledged or expressed interest in sending troops or police officers, said Valerie Mainil-Varlet, a spokesperson for the U.N. mission in Haiti.
The U.N. Security Council has authorized a force of up to 6,700 troops and 1,622 civilian police. Brazil will make up the bulk of the force, with 1,200 soldiers, and a Brazilian, Lt. Gen. Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira, will command it.
Mainil-Varlet said getting nations to commit troops to the mission in Haiti is an ongoing process, but by August she expects troop strength to be at 4,000. She said Ribeiro believes the current troop strength in Haiti – 1,200 Brazilians, 530 Canadians and 500 Chileans – is sufficient to carry out the mission until more troops arrive.