Members of the UN Security Council were concluding a visit to Haiti yesterday after days of bloody fighting between peacekeepers, police and heavily armed gangs that drove home the challenge of trying to bring peace to the poorest country in the Americas.
As council members concluded their four-day fact-finding trip, UN peacekeepers and Haitian police waged an hour-long gunbattle Friday in a maze-like seaside slum. The fighting killed at least five -- and perhaps as many as 10 -- suspects described as members of an armed band loyal to deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, UN officials said.
Among the dead, UN officials said, was a suspect in the fatal shooting Thursday of a Filipino peacekeeper, the third UN casualty in the year-old mission to stabilize Haiti.
Security Council members said it was likely they would increase the number of UN civilian police in Haiti when they vote next month to expand the mission's mandate past its June expiration.
Meanwhile, outside observers said aggressive moves by UN forces in recent months had not yet staunched the violence.
Dozens of people die monthly from attacks largely by criminal gangs in Port-au-Prince, said Anna Neistat, co-author of a new Human Rights Watch report critical of the UN and Haiti's interim government.
"In recent months and weeks, violence in the capital has become the No. 1 problem," she said. "It takes lives every single day."
UN officials have claimed recent victories against armed gangs, and promised more action against gun-toting militants in coming days.
The clashes come as some diplomats and politicians said Haiti has made little progress in preparing for fall elections and needs more funding to lay the groundwork for the vote.
The UN Security Council met with leaders of various political groups Friday, and participants said Haitian politicians expressed frustration with UN efforts to assure safe and free elections more than a year after Aristide was overthrown.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan learned "with great dismay and sadness" of the death of the UN peacekeeper from the Philippines on Thursday and shares "the indignation" expressed by Security Council members visiting Haiti, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York.
Annan condemns all violence against UN personnel and reiterates the UN mission's resolve "to continue to work toward the establishment of a peaceful environment in Haiti," Eckhard said.
The Filipino staff sergeant, a 22-year army veteran, died when gunfire erupted during an operation to cordon off Cite Soleil.
More than 400 people have died since September in clashes among pro- and anti-Aristide street gangs, police, peacekeepers and ex-soldiers who helped oust Aristide.
Security Council members also toured the northern cities of Gonaives and Cap-Haitien on Friday.
UN soldiers said the security situation had improved in Gonaives, where peacekeepers were consumed with relief work after September floods that killed nearly 2,000 people. There have been less than half a dozen minor attacks on peacekeepers in Gonaives this year, soldiers said.
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