Wed, Aug 01, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Ban Ki-moon set to visit Haiti during his Caribbean tour


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was due in Haiti today for a 24-hour visit to the Western Hemisphere's poorest country to confer with Haitian President Rene Preval and tour the UN mission's headquarters there.

Haiti will be the first stop on a two-country Caribbean swing that will later take him to Barbados, which currently chairs the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

In Port-au-Prince, Ban is to confer with Preval, parliamentary leaders as well as top officials of political parties, civil society and the private sector, UN officials said.

Ban in his meetings will reaffirm the UN's commitment to help Haiti create "the conditions for stability and sustainable development," UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.

He will also review Haiti's progress in "judicial reform, anti-corruption, drug trafficking and border management" issues, she said.

Although Haiti's political class appears divided about the presence of UN blue helmets and about Ban's upcoming visit, the Preval administration sees the visit as recognition of the country's progress.

"Everything is ready to welcome Ban Ki-moon," Preval's office said on Monday.

"The visit of two UN secretaries general [Kofi Annan and Ban] within a year signals for us a consolidation of the process of democratization and stabilization in the country," said Fritz Longchamp, Preval's chief of staff.

He expressed hope that Ban will pledge to speak on behalf of Haiti in talks with major international financial institutions.

But opposition parties openly spoke against what they see as "the occupation of the country" by the 9,000-strong UN stabilization force in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which has been operating in the country since June 2004.

During his visit, the UN chief is also to inspect MINUSTAH headquarters and to travel to the Haitian capital's crime-riven Cite Soleil slum to visit a water tower repaired by MINUSTAH and meet with the local mayor.

UN peacekeepers spearheaded a series of raids in Cite Soleil in December to crack down on armed gangs, subsequently arresting hundreds of gang members and confiscating dozens of their weapons.

The impoverished Caribbean nation has suffered two decades of violence and instability that was further fueled by the February 2004 resignation of then-president Jean Bertrand Aristide, amid a popular uprising.

MINUSTAH spokeswoman Sophie Boutaud de la Combe said July 13 that when the mandate of the UN mission comes up for renewal in October, staffing would have to be reevaluated.

But she noted that while "arrests have declined, that does not mean that stabilization has been consolidated completely."

A key issue is whether MINUSTAH's strength -- 7,200 military troops and 1,500 police -- should stay at present authorized levels, or whether it should be cut, perhaps to the earlier pre-election levels, diplomats said.

Although the election process has now been completed, the diplomats pointed out that the presence of extra troops in Haiti acts as a preventive measure against further destabilization of the country.

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