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20 mars 2006

Port-au-Prince, Haiti : Authorities on Monday [20 March] expressed concern that reports of kidnappings and other criminal gang activities could spell a new outbreak of violence in the troubled Caribbean nation.

Interim President Boniface Alexandre’s chief of staff, Michel Brunache, and police officials said the Haitian national police force were working to quell bandits, who through a change in tactics, have been able to perpetrate criminal acts.

« We have noted an increase in the criminality rate in the capital and it is a source of concern for the government, » said Brunache.

However, he said « there is no comparison with what we’ve seen during the months preceding the 7 February elections ».

Several armed groups from the dangerous slum of Cite Soleil and from other popular neighbourhoods announced shortly before the first round of the ballot that they had put down their weapons.

Officials fear, however, the security situation could deteriorate again after about eight weeks of relative quiet, bringing an end to the truce the country has seen since before the holding of the first round of the presidential and legislative elections last month.

The director for the judicial police, Michael Lucius, in charge of the police department fighting criminal gang activities, said gang members, such as kidnappers, were moving to different locations.

« The bandits are now using new tactics and move to other locations because they no longer have the possibility to operate in their usual areas of influence, » said Lucius. « We are fighting to make sure they don’t turn other safe areas into bastions for violence, » he added.

Heavily armed bandits have been calling the shots in the northern town of Gonaives over the past few weeks. Several people have been shot dead and the Haitian police, supported by UN troops, have been unable to restore security there.

Some 2,000 people had been kidnapped for ransom from March 2005 up to now and over 2,000 others have been shot dead over the past two years either during police raids on popular slums to chase bandits, by the bandits themselves or when caught in crossfire, according to human rights groups and witnesses.

Haiti is scheduled to hold a legislative runoff on 21 April and a date for the inauguration [of] President-elect Rene Preval is yet to be determined. But sources close to the presidential palace said the transfer of power ceremony could take place in the second week of May.

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