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14 octobre 2004

- Andrew Hay

BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti urgently need reinforcements to cope with surging violence in the Caribbean country devastated by tropical storms, Brazil’s foreign minister said on Thursday.

Brazilian-led U.N. troops are stretched to the limit as they try to prevent looting of aid supplies and stop gun battles and political clashes that have killed about 50 people since September, Celso Amorim said.

The U.N. force has just 2,600 soldiers, according to Amorim — a fraction of the 6,700 troops and 1,600 police authorized for Haiti after a February revolt killed more than 200 people and forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile.

« As long as we don’t have the increase in forces, it’s going to be very difficult, » Amorim told reporters.

The U.N. mission took over peacekeeping in Haiti in June from a U.N.-sanctioned multinational force led by U.S. Marines.

Since September, Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince has been beset by violence between Aristide opponents and supporters of the exiled leader.

Floods that killed more than 3,000 people last month in Tropical Storm Jeanne have strained peacekeepers’ resources.

In a sign of increasing concerns over violence, the United States decided on Thursday to allow nonemergency embassy staff personnel and relatives to leave the country, and the State Department asked Americans to consider leaving Haiti.

« There has been a noticeable escalation in criminal and gang activity » this month, it said in a statement.

Amorim said the mission lacks manpower even though 600 U.N. peacekeepers are on their way to boost the force to 3,200.

U.N. officials said this week that 3,092 U.N. troops from Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Nepal and Sri Lanka were in Haiti along with 604 police.

They said the force should reach its full size of 8,300, including 1,600 police, in November.

Aid agencies joined the Brazilians in appealing for more support.

« It’s really almost impossible to keep a humanitarian response going in such a highly volatile environment, » said Abby Maxman, Haiti country director for international aid agency CARE.

Fighting in Port-au-Prince has prevented food from being transported from the capital to flood disaster areas, said Anne Poulsen of the U.N.’s World Food Program.

The majority of those killed in recent clashes — about 30 — died in gun battles between rival gangs in Cite Soleil, Haiti’s largest slum.


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