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Haiti PM turns to military for help in fighting gangs

Published:Friday | March 17, 2023 | 5:02 PM
A parent, carrying his child after picking him up from school, runs past police carrying out an operation against gangs in the Bel-Air area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 3, 2023. Prime Minister Ariel Henry signaled Friday, March 17, 2023 that he wants to mobilize Haiti’s military to help the National Police fight the country’s increasingly powerful criminal gangs. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph, File)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Prime Minister Ariel Henry signalled Friday that he wants to mobilise Haiti's military to help the National Police fight the country's increasingly powerful gangs.

Henry said during an appearance at the Haitian Armed Forces headquarters that he intends to mobilise all of the country's security forces in the fight against gang violence.

His comments come as Haiti and some UN officials continue to press the international community to deploy foreign troops to help quell the widespread violence.

“What we are living today is not a joke,” Henry said.

Jean Robenson Servilius, who works in the press office for Haiti's Defense Ministry, confirmed to The Associated Press that officials are working on plans to activate the military.

He said that the Armed Forces currently have some 2,000 soldiers and that more are being recruited, adding that they have been trained by experts in Argentina, Mexico and Colombia.

Robenson said he could not provide further details.

Haiti's military was disbanded in 1995 after it participated in multiple coups and was accused of other political interference.

The Armed Forces were reinstated by since assassinated President Jovenel Moïse in 2017 after the UN ended its peacekeeping operation in Haiti.

Since then, it has played a limited role, which includes providing protection to Haiti's prime minister.

“Are we ready to work hand-in-hand with the police force in the fight against insecurity?” Henry asked during his visit to Haiti's military headquarters.

It was not immediately clear when the military would be activated, how many soldiers would be called to duty or what role they would play. But Henry said their help was needed.

“The Haiti that we want, we will not be able to build it with gangs that are rampant everywhere. They must listen to reason, or we will make them listen to reason in spite of themselves,” he said.

Gangs control an estimated 60% of the capital of Port-au-Prince, and they have killed hundreds of people in recent months in their fight to control more territory in the aftermath of the July 2021 assassination of Moïse at his private home.

Tens of thousands of Haitians have been displaced by the ongoing violence, which UN officials say has reached levels not seen in decades.

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