The top UN official in Haiti vowed on Sunday to crack down on gangs that have been on a kidnapping spree and threaten the country's fifth attempt at scheduling elections, as the peacekeeping mission grappled with the apparent suicide of its military commander.
Haitian electoral authorities said they will propose an election date of Feb. 7, with a runoff if needed on March 19.
The voting aims to restore democracy to this Caribbean nation two years after a rebellion overthrew former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, but this has been repeatedly postponed owing to organizational and security problems.
Juan Gabriel Valdes, the UN special envoy to Haiti, told a news conference that international forces are working on security, particularly a wave of kidnappings by slum gangs in Port-au-Prince allegedly loyal to Aristide.
"We are planning other attacks on kidnappers and we are going to resist this process of destabilization," he said. "We are not going to allow any attempt to derail the electoral process."
Meanwhile, UN police were investigating the death of Lieutenant-General Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar, a Brazilian who commanded 7,400 UN troops. His body was found on Saturday on the balcony of his hotel room at the upscale Hotel Montana.
A delegation of Brazilian police and military officials came to Haiti to monitor the UN police investigation into Bacellar's death.
The Provisional Electoral Council agreed to a first round of voting on Feb. 7 and a possible second round on March 19, Rosemond Pradel, secretary general of the council, said.
The council forwarded its recommendation to interim President Boniface Alexandre, Pradel said, adding that seven of the nine council members met on Saturday night and approved the new dates.
"The people and the candidates want to have the elections and we are ready," he said.
In Port-au-Prince's largest outdoor market downtown, merchants said they were frustrated with the repeated delays in holding the elections.
"The council should do its job and make the elections happen," said Gregoir Frantz, 50, who sells batteries and locks from a stall.
Difficulties in distributing voter registration cards and setting up polling stations contributed to the postponements, but Pradel said the problems can be overcome. There are 35 presidential candidates and hundreds more for 129 legislative seats.
But Patrick Fequiere, a council member who did not attend the Saturday session, said he still doubts the election materials can be distributed throughout this impoverished country of 8 million people by Feb. 7, which could allow the results to be disputed.
"It is clear that this new date is in response to increasing international pressure," Fequiere said in an interview. The UN Security Council and the Organization of American States have urged Haiti's transitional government to hold elections no later than Feb. 7.
A senior UN official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Bacellar suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head in his hotel.