January 28, 2005


Haitians embrace U.N. force: U.N. peacekeepers entered the volatile Bel Air slum in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, to remove trash and provide food and medical aid, a move the populace greeted with joy. (JOE MOZINGO, 1/28/05, Miami Herald)

The U.N. peacekeepers secured the slum block by block, house by house. Sharpshooters scanned alleys from high rooftops. Tractors filled ditches and cleared away burned-up car chassis that had been used as barricades to keep out authorities.

Until Thursday, this part of the Bel Air neighborhood near the presidential palace in downtown Port-au-Prince was a no-go zone -- a twisting warren of bloodshed dominated by armed gangs loyal to ousted President JeanBertrand Aristide.

But the 700 U.N. peacekeepers who rolled in before dawn were eagerly greeted by residents happy to be freed -- at least for the day -- from the gang members who constantly terrorize them.

''It's good, it's good, it's good,'' said Jocelyn Timouche, 25, selling shoes on the sidewalk. Twenty feet away, a U.N. tractor scooped up mounds of sulfurous mud and trash, piled head-high. ``We couldn't even eat, it smelled so bad.''

More than anything, the warm welcome reflected some residents' growing dissatisfaction with the ''rats,'' as the young thugs are called. [...]

The fact that nobody opened fire on the peacekeepers was a welcome sign that they are gradually becoming accepted in even the most pro-Aristide communities. Supporters of Aristide, ousted 11 months ago, have often branded the U.N. troops an occupying force that should leave so that Aristide can return from exile in South Africa.

Led by the Brazilians, the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti now has 6,003 soldiers and 1,400 civilian police officers, and has recently begun more ambitious operations in pro-Aristide holdouts such as Bel Air.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 28, 2005 8:03 AM
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