Senior UN officials praise improving security situation in Haiti

WASHINGTON – Almost a month after a catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti, senior United Nations officials said today that the security situation in the Caribbean country has recovered to being nearly the same as it was before the disaster and that the thousands of additional troops and police officers requested by the Security Council are on the way.

“As we speak, 900 additional troops from Brazil are arriving today and tomorrow,” Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told a press conference today in New York. “Also, an engineering company from Japan with 190 people is en route, as well as units from South Korea with 240 and from the Dominican Republic with 150 total personnel. There are also many other pledges, mostly from Latin America.”

In addition to the troops, Bangladesh, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain have pledged 500 police officers, with additional officers expected to arrive from India, Pakistan, Rwanda and Turkey.

“The international answer to the request has been tremendous,” Mr. Le Roy said of last month’s Security Council decision to send 3,500 additional military and police as reinforcements for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) troops and the Haitian local police, which he praised for being back on the streets just days after the earthquake.

Speaking by videoconference from Port-au-Prince, Edmond Mulet, the Secretary-General’s Acting Special Representative in Haiti, added that the security is under control but that are concerns about the 5,000 prison inmates who escaped from the national penitentiary during the quake, believed to be responsible for an increase in rapes at camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and battles over control of neighbourhoods. So far, some 200 have been captured.

“We are working closely with local police and the Government to go after them. The population is working with us and is denouncing them and telling us where they are hiding,” Mr. Mulet said.

The main priority in Haiti – where the Government said more than 210,000 people were killed, 300,000 injured and at least half a million others displaced by the quake ¬– continues to be humanitarian.

The first major rains of the year fell early Thursday, triggering landslides and destroying some buildings weakened by the quake.

Mr. Mulet said MINUSTAH had established rescue teams to assist with the new but expected challenges, describing the situation as “very worrying.”

The European Union (EU) announced earlier today that it would mount a military operation to create semi-permanent shelter before the start of the rainy season, expected in April.

While details have not yet been announced, Mr. Mulet and Mr. Le Roy called this a “welcome initiative.”

In addition, Mr. Mulet praised the coordination between the various countries involved, the Haitian Government, UN agencies and programmes, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and noted that “life was coming back to the city.”

He added that while the logistics of providing aid in the first days were a “nightmare,” all seemed to be going well now. MINUSTAH and US military forces in Port-au-Prince were sharing responsibility for manning 16 food distribution centres in the city.

UNDP’s cash-for-work programme was now assisting 3,500 people, mainly women and children, and could target up to 100,000 with sufficient financial support.

The officials also praised the role of the Dominican Republic in the humanitarian efforts. Aid corridors to deliver relief supplies to Haiti by air, sea and land were opened in the immediate aftermath. The UN is now able to bring in 350 containers per day of supplies to Haiti, thanks in part to the Dominican Republic corridor, and is expected to be able to bring in 1,500 containers by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes is today in the Dominican Republic, where he is scheduled to meet with that country’s President Leonel Fernandez Reyna to express his appreciation for the work done so far on behalf of Haiti.

“I am well aware of the enormous efforts by the Dominican Republic to help the people affected by the earthquake in Haiti,” Mr. Holmes said in a statement.

“The people and the Government of the Dominican Republic have shown deep solidarity with the Haitian people. I am confident that this vital support will continue as long as it will be needed,” he added.

Mr. Holmes will also visit the border areas to see the humanitarian situation of the population there before heading to Port-au-Prince.

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