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26 December 2007

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti_Every unit in the U.N.’s 7,800-strong Haitian peacekeeping force has been warned against misconduct after a sex-abuse scandal erupted last month, the top U.N. official in Haiti said Wednesday.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, chief envoy Hedi Annabi said officials are keeping a close eye on peacekeepers after 108 Sri Lankan soldiers were recalled last month when investigators found they had paid for sex with Haitians, some of whom were underage.

“The force commander has visited all of the units one by one to warn them against any possible misconduct,” said Annabi, who took charge of the peacekeeping mission in September. “We are here to serve our Haitian friends and not create problems.”

Almost a tenth of Sri Lanka’s battalion in Haiti has been recalled and now faces legal proceedings and courts-martial at home, Annabi said. Three officers were withdrawn for failure of leadership and the unit’s commander was replaced.

The alleged sexual exploitation angered many across Haiti, whose 8.7 million people already have an uneasy relationship with the U.N. force, which was sent in 2004 to end the chaos that followed the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Although the force, known by the French acronym MINUSTAH, is widely credited with bringing security to the impoverished nation, many are uncomfortable with the presence of heavily-armed foreign troops and believe international efforts should center more on development.

Annabi said U.N. peacekeepers are now focusing on securing Haiti’s porous border with the Dominican Republic, where drugs, arms and migrant workers flow largely unchecked.

Three contingents of 30 U.N. troops have been deployed to assist Haitian police at key crossings, with a fourth on its way, as the force moves “to address potential new sources of insecurity that may be imported through the borders,” Annabi said.

Uruguay has agreed to donate 16 new 30-foot patrol ships, expected to arrive within months, to monitor ports around the Haitian coast.

A corruption investigation is also continuing into five U.N. procurement employees accused of improperly steering a US$10 million-a-year fuel contract to a single Haitian fuel distributor, Distributeurs Nationaux SA, in 2005, Annabi said.

“None of those five persons who were mentioned in the report are still employed in procurement activities in MINUSTAH,” he said, adding that four of them have been dismissed.

Other fuel companies were kept in the dark when the contract was signed without any apparent bidding process, said Maurice Lafortune, head of the association that oversees Haitian fuel companies.


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