The UN Security Council voted unanimously on Friday to reduce the number of UN peacekeeping troops and police in Haiti and bring the force closer to its level before the earthquake devastated the impoverished Caribbean nation in January last year.
“The overall security situation, while fragile, has improved,” the council’s resolution said, while extending the UN force’s mandate for another year.
Council members backed a recommendation by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to reduce the mission’s current authorized military strength of 8,940 to 7,340 troops, and its international police force from 4,391 to 4,241 officers.
The UN force had an authorized strength of 6,940 troops and 2,211 police before the quake devastated Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, killing an estimated 230,000 to 300,000 people and destroying more than 100,000 buildings.
In extending the mandate of the UN force until Oct. 15 next year, the council said it was playing a “critical role .... in ensuring stability and security in Haiti.”
While Haiti has made considerable strides since the quake, the UN Security Council said criminal gangs remain a threat to the country’s stability.
“Trends since the earthquake reveal an increase in all major categories of crime, including murder, rape and kidnapping in Port-au-Prince” and the western province, whose capital, Jacmel, was also ravaged by the quake, the council said.
It said sexual and gender-based violence also remains a serious concern in poor districts of Port-au-Prince, camps for internally displaced people and remote areas of the country.
The UN force has helped keep order in Haiti since 2004, when political violence engulfed the country.
Haitian President Michel Martelly asked for a renewal of the UN mission’s mandate, which remains unpopular among some Haitians.
Last month, protesters calling for the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers clashed with police outside the earthquake--damaged Haitian National Palace in Port-au-Prince.
Protesters said they were angry over the alleged sexual assault of an 18-year-old Haitian man by UN peacekeepers from Uruguay in the southwestern town of Port-Salut in July.
They also expressed anger over a cholera outbreak likely introduced by a battalion from Nepal. The outbreak has killed more than 6,200 people since it surfaced in October last year, according to the Health Ministry.
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