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Haiti: Several killed as gangs attack affluent areas

March 19, 2024

People report incidents of shooting and looting, with bullet-ridden bodies found in the upscale neighborhood of Petion-Ville. Meanwhile, a UN agency warned of "famine and malnutrition."

People gather at a crime scene in Port-au-Prince in Haiti. March 18, 2024.
According to the UN, there are 360,000 internally displaced people in Haiti, while thousands have been killedImage: Ralph Tedy Erol/REUTERS

At least 10 people were found dead on Monday in a wealthy suburb of Haiti's capital, as gang violence takes grip of the country amid political instability following the announcement of the Prime Minister Ariel Henry's resignation.

Witnesses reported seeing the bodies, some with bulletholes, in the affluent Petion-Ville neighborhood on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.

Armed gangs attacked homes, a bank and a gas station in the area.

There were reports of shooting and looting in the nearby area of Laboule.

"We don't know if it's bandits or the police who were behind this," a motorcycle taxi driver named Cadet told AFP news agency. He said that the victims were probably those who had been out late at night, "searching for something to eat for their children."

Dominican Republic soldiers keep watch as Haitians queue to cross the border after they were allowed into a market for needed essentials and trade, as gang violence continues in the aftermath of the resignation of Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry, at a farmer's market in the border town of Dajabon, Dominican Republic, March 18, 2024.
Neighbors like the Dominican Republic have increased border security as Haitians seek to flee the fightingImage: Fran Afonso/REUTERS

What is the background to political instability in Haiti?

Haiti has been seeing escalating violence for most of this month as armed gangs rebelled against Prime Minister Henry, forcing the country to declare a state of emergency.

Last week, Henry agreed to step down after the Caribbean regional trade bloc known as Caricom organized emergency talks in Jamaica to address the situation.

He had held the position, unelected, since the 2021 assassination of the previous president, Jovenel Moise.

According to Caricom, a seven-member presidential council will be formed for the transition to elections in Haiti. The council will appoint a new interim government in the meantime before the vote.

The Caribbean country hasn't held elections since 2016.

What the US says about the situation in Haiti

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, also present at the talks in Jamaica, had said he expected the transition council to come together soon.

On Monday, a US official voiced hope that the transitional body could be ready "as soon as today" — but nothing further emerged.

Following a UN Security Council meeting on Haiti on Monday, Jamaican Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith said the talks were "progressing well."

At the same time, efforts to establish a new leadership structure in Haiti were facing resistance with some rebelling factions rejecting any decision by Caricom.

UN warns of famine amid lawlessness

As lawlessness further spreads, Haiti's police seem too overwhelmed to contain the violence. A plan for a UN-backed, Kenyan-led police force, requested by the Haitian government, is currently on hold.

According to the United Nations (UN), there are 360,000 internally displaced people in Haiti, while thousands have been killed. There are also reports of sexual violence, torture, arson and kidnappings.

On Sunday, the UNICEF warned of "famine and malnutrition" with aid groups unable to gain access. Over the weekend, one of UNICEF 's containers carrying essential supplies was looted by gangs at Haiti's main port.

The US, the UN, Canada and EU member states have already evacuated diplomatic staff as the crisis continues unabated.

Meanwhile, commercial flights have been suspended, and neighboring countries have bolstered their borders.

Haiti faces humanitarian crisis in wake of political unrest

ss/msh (AFP, Reuters)