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UN-backed contingent of foreign police arrives in Haiti as Kenya-led force prepares to face gangs

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UN-backed contingent of foreign police arrives in Haiti as Kenya-led force prepares to face gangs
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UN-backed contingent of foreign police arrives in Haiti as Kenya-led force prepares to face gangs

2024-06-26 05:45 Last Updated At:05:50

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived in Haiti on Tuesday, nearly two years after the troubled Caribbean country urgently requested help to quell a surge in gang violence.

A couple hundred police officers from Kenya landed in the capital of Port-au-Prince, whose main international airport reopened in late May after gang violence forced it to close for nearly three months.

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Police from Kenya enter a bus after landing at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived in Haiti on Tuesday, nearly two years after the troubled Caribbean country urgently requested help to quell a surge in gang violence.

Police from Kenya stand at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand on the tarmac of the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand on the tarmac of the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

The plane carrying police from Kenya taxis after landing at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

The plane carrying police from Kenya taxis after landing at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Journalists cover the arrival of a plane carrying police from Kenya at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Journalists cover the arrival of a plane carrying police from Kenya at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Police from Kenya deplane at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Police from Kenya deplane at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

An armored police vehicle patrols in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

An armored police vehicle patrols in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

UN-backed contingent of foreign police arrives in Haiti as Kenya-led force prepares to face gangs

UN-backed contingent of foreign police arrives in Haiti as Kenya-led force prepares to face gangs

FILE - Kenya police patrol the streets of Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Hundreds of Kenyan police officers are leaving for Haiti, where they will lead a multinational force against powerful gangs. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga, File)

FILE - Kenya police patrol the streets of Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Hundreds of Kenyan police officers are leaving for Haiti, where they will lead a multinational force against powerful gangs. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga, File)

UN-backed contingent of foreign police arrives in Haiti as Kenya-led force prepares to face gangs

UN-backed contingent of foreign police arrives in Haiti as Kenya-led force prepares to face gangs

It wasn’t immediately known what the Kenyans’ first assignment would be, but they will face violent gangs that control 80% of Haiti’s capital and have left more than 580,000 people homeless across the country as they pillage neighborhoods in their quest to control more territory. Gangs also have killed several thousand people in recent years.

The Kenyans’ arrival marks the fourth major foreign military intervention in Haiti. While some Haitians welcome them, others view the force with caution, given that the previous intervention — the U.N.’s 2004-2017 peacekeeping mission — was marred by allegations of sexual assault and the introduction of cholera, which killed nearly 10,000 people.

Romain Le Cour, senior expert at Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, urged the international community and government officials to share details, including the mission’s rules of engagement and concept of operation.

“What is going to happen vis-a-vis the gangs,” he said. “Is it a static mission? Is it a moving mission? All those details are still missing, and I think it’s about time that there’s actually transparency.”

Hours after the Kenyans landed, Prime Minister Garry Conille thanked the East African country for its solidarity, noting that gangs have vandalized homes and hospitals and set libraries on fire, making Haiti “unlivable.”

“The country is going through very difficult times,” he said at a news conference. “Enough is enough. ... We’re going to start working little by little to retake the country."

Conille said the Kenyans would be deployed in the next couple of days, but he did not provide details. He was accompanied by Monica Juma, Kenya's former minister of foreign affairs who now serves as national security advisor to President William Ruto. She said the Kenyans will “serve as agents of peace, of stability, of hope.”

“We stand united in our commitment to support Haiti's National Police to restore public order and security,” she said. “It is our hope that this will not become a permanent mission.”

The deployment comes nearly four months after gangs launched coordinated attacks, targeting key government infrastructure in Haiti’s capital and beyond. They seized control of more than two dozen police stations, fired on the main international airport and stormed Haiti’s two biggest prisons, releasing more than 4,000 inmates.

“We’ve been asking for security for the longest time,” said Orgline Bossicot, a 47-year-old mother of two who sells carrots and charcoal as a wholesale distributor.

Gang violence has stymied her sales, and she tries to stay out as late as possible before sundown to make up for the losses despite being afraid.

“You don’t know who’s waiting for you around the corner,” she said, adding that she is hopeful about the Kenyan police joining forces with local authorities.

Critics say the gang attacks that began Feb. 29 could have been prevented if the foreign force had been deployed sooner, but multiple setbacks — including a legal challenge filed in Kenya and political upheaval in Haiti — delayed its arrival.

The attacks prevented then-Prime Minister Ariel Heny, who at the time was in Kenya to push for the deployment, from returning to Haiti. He resigned in late April as the violence surged. Afterward, a nine-member transitional presidential council chose former U.N. official Conille as prime minister and appointed a new Cabinet in mid-June.

Still, the gang violence has persisted, and experts say it will continue unless the government also addresses socioeconomic factors that fuel the existence of gangs in a deeply impoverished country with a severely understaffed and under-resourced police department.

Le Cour said the reaction of the gangs to the mission is difficult to predict. “Some of them might fight. Some of them might want to negotiate and open dialogue with the Haitian government," he said.

In a recent video, Jimmy Chérizier, a former elite police officer who now leads a powerful gang federation known as G9 Family and Allies, addressed the new prime minister for the first time.

“Do not play into the hands of traditional politicians and businessmen, who used violence for political and economic ends," said Chérizier, best known as Barbecue. "The problem that exists today can only be resolved through dialogue.”

When asked about Barbecue's comments on Tuesday, Conille responded with a message of his own: “Put down the guns and recognize the authority of the state, and then we will see where we go from there.”

The U.N. Security Council authorized Kenya to lead the multinational police mission in October 2023, a year after Henry first requested immediate help.

President Joe Biden praised the arrival of the first contingent, saying that the mission overall “will bring much needed relief."

“The people of Haiti deserve to feel safe in their homes, build better lives for their families, and enjoy democratic freedoms,” he said. "While these goals may not be accomplished overnight, this mission provides the best chance of achieving them.”

Rights groups and others have questioned the use Kenyan police, pointing out the years of allegations against officers of abuses, including extrajudicial killings. On Tuesday, police again were accused of opening fire in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, where thousands of protesters stormed the parliament.

Kenyan police in Haiti will be joined by police from the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin, Chad and Jamaica for a total of 2,500 officers. They will be deployed in phases at a cost of some $600 million a year, according to the U.N. Security Council.

So far, the U.N.-administered fund for the mission has received only $18 million in contributions from Canada, France and the United States. The U.S. also has pledged a total of $300 million in support.

“While gang violence appears to have receded from its peak earlier this year, the country’s security situation remains dire,” the U.N. Security Council said in a June 21 statement.

More than 2,500 people were killed or injured in the first three months of this year, a more than 50% increase from the same period last year.

Many Haitians live in fear, including Jannette Oville, a 54-year-old mother of two university-age boys. She sells crops like plantains and green peppers, and gangs have robbed her several times as she travels aboard public buses with her goods. She tucks money in her armpit or underwear to try to keep it safe, she said.

“I need security. I need to work. I need the roads to open up so I can provide for my family,” she said. “Being a female entrepreneur in Haiti is never easy. There’s a lot of risk. But we take a risk to make sure our families are good.”

An estimated 1.6 million Haitians are on the brink of starvation, the highest number recorded since the devastating 2010 earthquake, according to the U.N.

Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Police from Kenya enter a bus after landing at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya enter a bus after landing at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand on the tarmac of the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

Police from Kenya stand on the tarmac of the Toussaint Louverture International Airport after landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Marckinson Pierre)

The plane carrying police from Kenya taxis after landing at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

The plane carrying police from Kenya taxis after landing at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Journalists cover the arrival of a plane carrying police from Kenya at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Journalists cover the arrival of a plane carrying police from Kenya at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Police from Kenya deplane at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Police from Kenya deplane at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. The first U.N.-backed contingent of foreign police arrived nearly two years after the Caribbean country requested help to quell a surge in gang violence. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

An armored police vehicle patrols in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

An armored police vehicle patrols in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, June 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

UN-backed contingent of foreign police arrives in Haiti as Kenya-led force prepares to face gangs

UN-backed contingent of foreign police arrives in Haiti as Kenya-led force prepares to face gangs

FILE - Kenya police patrol the streets of Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Hundreds of Kenyan police officers are leaving for Haiti, where they will lead a multinational force against powerful gangs. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga, File)

FILE - Kenya police patrol the streets of Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Hundreds of Kenyan police officers are leaving for Haiti, where they will lead a multinational force against powerful gangs. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga, File)

UN-backed contingent of foreign police arrives in Haiti as Kenya-led force prepares to face gangs

UN-backed contingent of foreign police arrives in Haiti as Kenya-led force prepares to face gangs

WASHINGTON (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before Congress on Wednesday in hopes of bolstering U.S. support for continuing Israel’s offensives against Hamas and other adversaries. But boycotts of his appearance by some Democratic lawmakers and expected protests outside are highlighting how his hard-line government's conduct of the devastating war in Gaza is opening fissures in longstanding American support for his country.

Netanyahu is assured a warm welcome from Republican lawmakers who arranged his speech in the House chamber, an appearance making him the first foreign leader to address a joint meeting of Congress four times, surpassing Winston Churchill.

Many Democrats and political independent Bernie Sanders plan to boycott Netanyahu's appearance. But the most notables absence will be behind him: Vice President Kamala Harris, who serves as president of the Senate and traditionally would sit behind whatever dignitary is speaking, says a long-scheduled trip will keep her away Wednesday. And the next Democrat in line, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, is declining to attend.

Republicans targeted the absence of Harris, the new Democratic front-runner for the presidency, as a sign of disloyalty to an ally. However, former President Donald Trump's running mate, JD Vance, said campaigning would also make him a no-show for the Israeli leader's speech.

And outside the Capitol, demonstrators angry over the deaths of nearly 40,000 Palestinians, or over Netanyahu's inability to free Israeli and American hostages taken by Hamas and other militants in the first hours of the Israel-Hamas war, are promising massive protests.

In anticipation, House Speaker Mike Johnson warned of a “zero-tolerance policy” for any signs of disturbances in the Capitol building. “It is our tradition to acknowledge every guest speaker’s right to free expression even if we disagree with their viewpoint,” the Louisiana Republican wrote to members Tuesday.

Johnson arranged the address, an honor that marks both the two countries’ historically warm bonds and the political weight that support for Israel has long carried in U.S. politics. But the attention for the visit has been diminished some by American political turmoil of recent weeks, including the assassination attempt against Trump and President Joe Biden’s decision not to seek another term.

Netanyahu hopes to project the image of a tough, respected statesman for an increasingly critical domestic audience back home in Israel. That may be difficult given the wide division among Americans over Netanyahu’s conduct of the war.

Many Democrats who support Israel but have been critical of Netanyahu see the address as a Republican effort to cast itself as the party most loyal to Israel and to provide the prime minister with a much-needed political reprieve.

“I don’t know all the motivations for Speaker Johnson initiating the invitation but clearly he wanted to throw a political lifeline to Netanyahu whose popularity is very low in Israel right now,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, among the dozens of Democrats set to boycott, said Tuesday.

Still, many Democrats plan to attend the address despite their criticism of Netanyahu, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who called for new elections in Israel in a March floor speech. Schumer, of New York, said then that Netanyahu has “lost his way” and is an obstacle to peace in the region amid the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Netanyahu also is to meet with Biden and Harris on Thursday, and Trump at Mar-a-Lago on Friday.

The United States is Israel's most important ally, arms supplier and source of military aid as Israel battles to break Hamas since the group attacked Israel on Oct. 7. Netanyahu's visit is his first abroad since the war started, and comes under the shadow of arrest warrants sought against him by the International Criminal Court over alleged Israel war crimes against Palestinians. The United States does not recognize the ICC.

The Biden administration says it wants to see Netanyahu focus during his visit on helping it complete a deal for a cease-fire and hostage-release in the nine-month war. Growing numbers of Israelis accuse Netanyahu of prolonging the war in order to avoid a likely fall from power whenever the conflict ends.

Netanyahu says his aims for the U.S. visit are to press for freeing hostages held by Hamas and other militants in Gaza, to build support for continuing Israel's battle against the group, and to argue for continuing to confront Hezbollah in Lebanon and other Iranian-allied groups in the region. The U.S., France and others are seeking to calm border fighting between Hezbollah and Israel, fearing a larger war.

Netanyahu in his speech also may address a new China-brokered deal between Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah to form a government together. The agreement was an attempt to resolve a rivalry that could make it even harder for Palestinians to secure a role governing Gaza whenever the war ends. Israel immediately denounced the pact, and State Department spokesman Matthew Miller called Hamas a terror group that should have no role in governing Palestinians.

Some Democrats are wary about Netanyahu, who used a 2015 joint address to Congress to denounce then-President Barack Obama's pending nuclear deal with Iran. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has said he does not expect Wednesday's speech to be a repeat of 2015's.

As the prime minister speaks, multiple protests are planned in and around the Capitol. The largest is set for Wednesday morning, with organizers planning to march around the Capitol demanding Netanyahu’s arrest on war crimes charges. Relatives of Israeli hostages are planning a vigil on the National Mall.

Associated Press writers Stephen Groves and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military base, which houses the Israeli Ministry of Defense, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Dec. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool, File)

FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military base, which houses the Israeli Ministry of Defense, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Dec. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool, File)

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