The New York Times
April 30, 2004

U.N. Struggles to Find Troops to Police Haiti

WASHINGTON, April 29 - Just a month before its deadline, the United Nations finds itself hard-pressed to sign up peacekeeping troops and French-speaking police officers to take over security in Haiti from an American-led interim force, United Nations officials and diplomats say.

The Security Council is considering a request by Secretary General Kofi Annan to send 6,700 peacekeepers and 1,622 civilian police officers to Haiti, which was shaken in February when armed insurgents opposed to the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide took over much of Haiti's north and moved on the capital.

Planners cite several challenges as they seek to replace nearly 2,000 troops from the United States and about 1,500 from France, Canada and Chile who were deployed to keep order after Mr. Aristide left.

Although this interim force has managed to impose a modicum of stability, diplomats express concern that large parts of the country remain under the rebels' control, and that there has been no systematic effort to disarm them.

One problem is the competition for French-speaking peacekeepers, as missions are prepared for Ivory Coast and Burundi this year, United Nations representatives said.

In addition, some potential contributors are reluctant to offer troops because of lingering doubts about the conditions of Mr. Aristide's departure, on Feb. 29: he was assisted into exile by American officials in an incident he later referred to as a kidnapping. The Bush administration denies this, saying it acted to safeguard Mr. Aristide from attack and to avert a rebel takeover.

"The big problem they have is the controversy over Aristide's departure,'' said a senior diplomat who is involved in the negotiations. "It remains a cancer, and it tends to limit support.''

The countries that currently have troops in Haiti have signaled their willingness to stay under the new mandate, and Brazil has said it would take part. A Canadian official said French-speaking nations in Africa had been asked to join in, and he said he was optimistic that the United Nations would reach its goal of more than doubling the interim force. "I think the world will be able to provide that,'' the official said.

The 15 nations in the Caribbean Community, or Caricom, have withheld recognition of Haiti's interim government, whose leaders were selected by a council of elders. Caricom has settled into an ambiguous stance, not ruling out a role in the new security forces and deferring a decision on recognizing Haiti's government until July.

One Caricom diplomat said the group had been stymied by the dispute over whether Bush administration officials undermined its diplomatic efforts and forced Mr. Aristide into exile. But Caribbean foreign ministers met last weekend and decided to take a more active role, now that the United Nations is involved.

In a report last week, Mr. Annan noted that his efforts to raise even small amounts of money for Haiti had fallen short, with the response to his appeal for $35 million in emergency assistance "slower than anticipated.''

Potential donors are expected to make an assessment next month to identify specific needs.

Mr. Annan's report calls for a force that would take over Haiti's security on June 1 and remain in place until elections can be held next year, and for an "appropriate period of time thereafter.''

The open-ended nature of the mission has caused some skepticism among potential contributors. The last peacekeeping mission - a joint operation of the United Nations and the Organization of American States - followed an American intervention in 1994 and lasted until 2001. Mr. Annan's report criticized the international community for having pulled out too quickly.

Calling for a sweeping United Nations program to develop the economy and civil society, Mr. Annan said conditions in Haiti now were actually worse than before foreign involvement began.

A key to progress, he said, would be establishing a process of national reconciliation and putting an end to a climate of impunity and revenge.

"Our task will not be easy,'' Mr. Annan wrote. "The situation looks more daunting today than it did a decade ago.''