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Haiti's capital under gang attacks ahead of government transition

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LA Post: Haiti's capital under gang attacks ahead of government transition
April 21, 2024
Harold Isaac - Reuters

By Harold Isaac

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Armed gangs launched fresh attacks on parts of Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince ahead of the installation of a transitional council set to usher in a new government, local media said on Sunday, reporting arson and heavy gunfire in the city centre.

The Lower Delmas area is turning into "a battlefield between police and armed gangs," Radio Tele Galaxie said on X, saying loud blasts were heard as far as the neighborhood's city hall, as well as automatic gunfire near the National Palace.

Two voice recordings circulated on social media which users attributed to gang leader Jimmy "Barbeque" Cherizier apparently ordering his soldiers to burn houses down in Lower Delmas, an impoverished part of the capital where he grew up.

"Continue burning the houses. Make everybody leave," a man says in the first audio recording. In another, he says he has sent jugs of gasoline: "No need to know which house. Burn every house you find. Set the fire," he says.

Reuters was unable to verify the recording, but a resident from the area told Reuters she had seen houses on fire.

The State University of Haiti's medical facility was also looted by gangs overnight, Radio RFM reported, while attacks were also reported in the hillside Petion-Ville suburb.

This comes as the country prepares for the installation of a nine-member council to take over from Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who pledged to step down on March 11 while stranded outside the country and under pressure from the United States.

Haiti's gangs, many of which have grouped together under an alliance known as "Viv Ansanm" (Living Together), have said their siege on the capital is a battle to oust Henry, but since his announcements attacks on the capital have increased.

Rights groups estimate some 90% of the capital is now under gang control.

Henry had traveled abroad at the end of February to secure Kenya's leadership of a planned security support force he requested in 2022. Though Kenya offered to lead the force it ran into local legal issues prompting Henry to sign a reciprocal security deal with the East African nation.

Though the United Nations ratified the force late last year, progress continued to lag and was finally put on hold when Henry announced his resignation, pending a new government.

Under government decrees confirming a transition plan mediated by the Caribbean Community, the members of the transition council, required to deliver documents proving their eligibility, should be sworn in at the National Palace.

The palace, however, alongside other public buildings and key infrastructure such as the capital's airport, have come under repeated attacks over recent weeks. No official date has been set for the installation.

Meanwhile, Haiti's civil protection agency warned of possible flooding over southern parts of the country, including the capital, due to heavy rains, further complicating conditions for those forced to flee their homes due to the violence.

The U.N. estimates that over 360,000 people are internally displaced and millions are going hungry as key ports and supply routes remain blocked.

(Reporting by Harold Isaac in Port-au-Prince; Writing by Sarah Morland; Editing by Diane Craft)

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