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Report: Gang violence displaces thousands in Haitian capital

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – Escalating gang violence has pushed nearly 8,500 women and children out of their homes in the Haitian capital…

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – Escalating gang violence has pushed nearly 8,500 women and children out of their homes in the Haitian capital in the past two weeks, according to a UNICEF report.

Officials say gang struggle in Port-au-Prince territory has forced hundreds of families to abandon burned or ransacked homes in impoverished communities, many of them remaining in gymnasiums and other temporary shelters who lack water, food and items. like blankets and clothes.

Bruno Maes, representative of Haiti for the United Nations agency for children which released the report Monday evening, compared the effect to guerrilla warfare, “with thousands of children and women caught in the crossfire” .

Nearly 14,000 people in Port-au-Prince have been displaced by violence in the past nine months, according to the UN office overseeing humanitarian coordination. Families with young children sleep on the concrete floor of a gymnasium in the Carrefour district, with only a sheet serving as a bed and their meager things stuffed in bags nearby.

Many expect violence to increase as Haiti prepares for general elections scheduled for September and November: they accuse gangs of trying to build support for some candidates and targeting neighborhoods staging protests against the president Jovenel Moïse.

Pierre Espérance, executive director of the Haitian National Human Rights Network, said gangs control around 60% of the country’s territory and that 12 massacres have been reported since 2018 in disadvantaged communities. However, he said he was particularly concerned about the latest upsurge in violence.

“It’s the worst we’ve seen,” he said. “Gangs have so much power and they are tolerated. … Each day that passes with Jovenel in power, the situation will deteriorate.

A spokesperson for Moses could not be reached immediately for comment.

Last week, Léon Charles, director general of the Haitian National Police, declared that the gangs are fighting over territory and called on the population to rise up against them: “The time has come for the collaboration of all sectors.

In addition to infiltrating rival slums, gangs have targeted police stations in recent weeks, killing several police officers. They also raided businesses and shot a car dealership on Monday as customers and employees fled. A few hours later, the Haitian National Police declared that they were in control of the situation and were working with citizens “to thwart the attempts of these armed gangs wanting at all costs to create a climate of terror in the country”.

The United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti has said it is deeply concerned about the upsurge in gang violence and called for its end so that humanitarian assistance can reach those in need.

Shops and schools have closed and public transport has ceased in communities most affected by the violence, including Martissant and parts of Delmas, with few of them crossing the area for fear of being killed.

Doctors Without Borders said its Martissant emergency center received more than 40 patients with gunshot wounds from June 2-4 and its employees had to seek shelter from stray bullets.

“We are witnessing an extremely worrying deterioration in the security situation,” the mission said. “At a time when we are expected to expand due to COVID-19 and other needs, we are struggling to keep our existing facilities open due to insecurity. “

The mission and other health experts say they fear people will seek medical help for fear of being injured or killed if they leave their homes as Haiti grapples with a spike in COVID-19 while awaiting its first vaccine delivery.

Meanwhile, Esperance, the human rights activist, said he did not foresee a quick fix: “It will be absolutely impossible to hold elections in Haiti in 2021.”

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Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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