Hundreds of UN peacekeeping troops stormed a stronghold of ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Tuesday in an attempt to control flashpoints of violence. At least four people were killed in separate incidents throughout the day.
Shootouts erupted between residents and UN troops who entered the Cite Soleil slum before dawn, said Damian Onses-Cardona, a spokesman for the 7,000-member UN peacekeeping mission.
At least six people were shot in the slum on Tuesday, including a 26-year-old woman, a 16-year-old boy and a 13-year-old boy, all injured during shootouts between peacekeepers and residents.
Cite Soleil, a gritty slum outside Port-au-Prince, has been plagued by violence since September, when Aristide loyalists stepped up protests to demand his return.
Since Aristide fled the country Feb. 29 amid a three-week rebellion, Haiti's US-backed government has struggled to stem violence committed by gangsters, pro-Aristide gangs, anti-Aristide gangs and former soldiers who led the February revolt. The ex-soldiers have grown increasingly frustrated with the government, which has yet to formally reinstate the army.
As UN troops patrolled sections of Cite Soleil on Tuesday, gunmen tore through a commercial area of the capital, shooting into the air, burning roadside stands and looting.
By late Tuesday afternoon, at least 19 people had been shot, according to hospital officials and residents. It was unclear where most of the shootings occurred. At least four had been killed, including a two-year-old who was found shot dead in Cite Soleil before the UN operation, Onses-Cardona said. It was unclear where the others were shot and killed.
UN officials said they planned to patrol Cite Soleil for at least two months until they can transfer operations to Haiti's beleaguered police. Many officers, who had been loyal to Aristide, fled their posts during the rebellion out of fear of reprisals.
The troops planned to dismantle roadblocks set up by armed residents and to gain control of the two police stations in the slum, which police have been reluctant to man. Nearly 20 police officers have been slain since Sept. 30, allegedly by pro-Aristide thugs.
Onses-Cardona said hundreds of Brazilian, Jordanian and Sri Lankan troops were involved in Tuesday's operation, supported by Chinese police and Chilean helicopters. He said most of the troops left after several hours but similar advances would take place daily.
The show of force came a week after UN mission chief Juan Gabriel Valdes promised a crackdown on armed groups who have been overwhelming Haiti's police.
For the first time since peacekeepers arrived, Valdes said troops would disarm gangsters.
Neither the peacekeeping forces nor the interim government have done much to disarm gangs or rebels who still control much of the countryside, patrolling towns and undermining police.
The rebels include members of the army, which Aristide disbanded in 1994. The former soldiers have refused to lay down their weapons, and want backpay for 10 years.
Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has accused Aristide of orchestrating the violence from exile in South Africa -- a charge Aristide has denied. Aristide says the US forced him to leave the country, a claim US officials deny.