Haiti's new interim prime minister said at a Herald forum that he wants seasoned troops deployed when the United Nations takes over peacekeeping.
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
Interim Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, saying his country needs more than traditional military peacekeepers, called on the United Nations on Saturday to send in a multinational force with the experience and mandate to disarm combatants.
Latortue plans to deliver the request in person to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan when the two meet in New York on Monday to discuss the United Nation's plans for replacing U.S. forces in Haiti.
''This case in Haiti is not the traditional case of maintaining peace,'' Latortue said Saturday during a live radio appearance at a Herald-sponsored forum on Haiti's future.
``We need some military forces and we need also people, police forces . . . with investigations skills like the FBI to be able to investigate cases like the numerous cases of kidnappings we have in Haiti. We do not have now, even with the American forces . . . people who have the skills of conducting investigations.''
The United States has led a stabilization force in Haiti of about 2,000 U.S. Marines, and 1,500 other troops from Canada, Chile and France since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigned Feb. 20 during a violent revolt.
Earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council approved the deployment of up to 6,700 military peacekeepers and 1,622 police officers for a ''blue helmet'' peacekeeping force in Haiti by June 1. It is the second time in a decade that the U.N. has agreed to send troops to the volatile Caribbean country.
Disarmament was among the myriad issues Latortue touched on Saturday during the hour-long discussion, which aired live on WLRN-FM (91.3). It also featured state Rep. Phillip Brutus, D-North Miami, North Miami Councilman Jacques Despinosse and community activist Leonie Hermantin.
The panelists, all Haitian Americans, quizzed Latortue about his interim government's plans for stabilizing Haiti, reaching out to Haitians outside Haiti and moving the country toward fair and credible elections, planned for 2005. The discussion was moderated by Herald foreign affairs columnist Andres Oppenheimer.
''Haiti is in our heart,'' Hermantin said, reflecting sentiments of Haitians regardless of how they feel about Aristide's departure.
But Haitians, she said, are concerned about the country's lingering problems: insecurity, an ill-trained police force, a $100 million budget deficit, the lack of electricity and basic commodities.
''We cannot do it overnight,'' Latortue said, alluding to his government's mandate to get the country on track.
The former South Florida resident and retired economist spent several days in Washington, where he met with President Bush and other top U.S. officials in hopes of getting millions of dollars in aid for the bankrupt country. Latortue, who will travel to Europe before returning to Haiti on May 14, received a commitment for $40 million in emergency aid, State Department officials confirmed to the Herald Friday.
In the two months since his appointment by a U.S.-backed council, Latortue's hasn't had an easy time. The Caribbean Community has refused to recognize him, citing statements he has made about breaking relations with the 15-member regional bloc following Jamaica's decision to host Aristide, and a controversial visit to his hometown of Gonaives where he embraced rebel leaders as ``freedom fighters.''
On Saturday he denied that he called the rebels ''freedom fighters'' but stood by his opinion that they had ``fought to free Haiti from the dictatorship of Aristide.''
Latortue also stood by his commitment to make the election in 2005 credible and fair, saying he will ask the global community to help by witnessing the ballot-counting.
"My own personal experience is that many Haitians, whenever they organize election, even elections to be president of a football club, they always try to manipulate it. I don't want to take that chance. I really would like the next election to be the true expression of the will of the Haitian people.''