UN peace units to protect aid in quake-hit Haiti

January 19th, 2010 - 11:34 am ICT by IANS  

New York, Jan 19 (DPA) United Nations peacekeepers in Haiti will provide security to food convoys and distribution centres as angry earthquake victims showed signs of restlessness in Port-au-Prince, UN peacekeeping officials said.
The UN Security Council was prepared to authorise Tuesday the request for additional military and police. A draft resolution to be adopted by the council would boost the total number to 8,940 military and 3,711 police in the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters that the humanitarian conditions and demands there are the largest in decades for the international community. The death toll could reach 200,000, Haitian, US and UN officials say.

MINUSTAH, which has assumed a leading role in the relief of earthquake survivors, currently has about 7,000 troops and 2,000 police. Ban requested the additional forces in response to the humanitarian crisis in Haiti.

The draft said the council planned to “endorse the recommendation made by the secretary general to increase the overall force levels of MINUSTAH to support the immediate recovery and stability efforts”.

“We want to make sure that our mission is back on its feet,” said Alain LeRoy, the UN undersecretary general for peacekeeping operations in New York.

LeRoy said Monday MINUSTAH’s new leadership is now in place and there are now 3,400 peacekeepers in Port-au-Prince, providing security and assisting the relief operations.

Edmond Mulet, the acting mission chief, was sent last week to replace Hedi Annabi, who was killed by the earthquake last Tuesday.

UN peacekeepers posted outside Port-au-Prince would be shifted to escort food convoys and some 200 distribution centres in Port-au Prince on a daily basis, LeRoy said. The UN, food and relief agencies are expecting 60,000 tons of food supplies in coming days.

The Dominican Republic, which opened its territory to facilitate the transfer of supplies, has agreed to provide a battalion of 800 troops to MINUSTAH as part of Ban’s request for additional soldiers.

The UN played down reports of riots in Port-au-Prince by angry quake victims waiting for too long for food and water a week after the earthquake. They said those incidents were not unusual considering the destruction and human despair in the post-quake situation, which the UN is trying to quickly overcome.

UN diplomats also played down the increasing foreign military presence in Haiti. French UN Ambassador Gerard Araud said earlier the military presence is aimed at supporting the government of President Rene Preval, because Port-au-Prince has been weakened by the massive destruction and the government cabinet has suffered heavy losses in personnel.

Washington planned to deploy more than 10,000 troops as part of the relief campaign.

“Our job is not to take over (the government), but to support it,” said Araud, whose government in Paris is planning an international conference in Montreal for the reconstruction of Haiti.

John Holmes, the top UN humanitarian coordinator who visited Port-au-Prince Sunday with Ban, said the request for additional troops and police is aimed at filling the gap when MINUSTAH will be required to shift its current staff around in Haiti.

“It’s not just a matter of shortage (of personnel),” Holmes said. “It’s a question of precaution to ensure that we will have what we need in the medium term as well.”

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