US calls for swift police deployment to Haiti after missionaries killed

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Haitian forces are seen in the country's capital, Port-au-Prince, which has faced years of escalating gang violence and instability [File: Clarens Siffroy/AFP]

US official says ‘Haiti cannot wait’ as Washington pushes for Kenya-led mission to help country tackle gang violence.

The administration of United States President Joe Biden has called for the rapid deployment of a Kenyan-led security force to Haiti following the killing of three missionaries working with a US group in the violence-hit Caribbean country.

The appeal on Friday came shortly after the non-profit Missions in Haiti Inc announced that three of its missionaries were fatally shot by armed gunmen on Thursday night in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

The deaths are the latest in months of spiralling violence in Port-au-Prince, which remains largely under the control of powerful armed groups that have unleashed a wave of deadly attacks across the city.

They also came as Kenyan President William Ruto wrapped up a visit to Washington, DC, where he met Biden and other senior US leaders to discuss a range of issues, including the long-stalled Haiti deployment.

“The security situation in Haiti cannot wait,” a National Security Council spokesperson said on Friday, adding that Biden had pledged to support the “expedited deployment” of the Kenya-led force in talks with Ruto on Thursday.

“Our hearts go out to the families of those killed as they experience unimaginable grief,” the spokesperson added, referring to the missionaries.

Missouri State Representative Ben Baker on Friday identified his daughter, Natalie Lloyd, and son-in-law, Davy Lloyd, as being among those killed.

The pair had been working as full-time missionaries in the country, and Davy Lloyd was the son of Missions in Haiti Inc’s founders, David and Alicia Lloyd, who started the organisation in 2000.

The identity of the third person killed has not been released.

The United Nations and other humanitarian organisations have been calling for more support for the citizens of Haiti amid years of gang violence and political instability, which worsened after the 2021 killing of President Jovenel Moise.

The most recent wave of unrest, which kicked off in February with gang attacks on police stations, prisons and other state institutions, forced Haiti’s unelected Prime Minister Ariel Henry to step down.

An interim presidential council has since been appointed to lead the country, but major concerns and uncertainty persist.

The UN humanitarian coordinator in Haiti earlier this month warned that “hundreds of thousands of people, including many women and children, are caught in violence, which shows little sign of abating”.

As of mid-March, more than 360,000 Haitians were internally displaced across the country, according to the UN, and at least 1,500 people have been killed in gang violence since the beginning of the year.

Yet while many Haitian civil society leaders and citizens say the country’s depleted and ill-equipped police force needs help to restore security, the looming deployment of Kenyan-led foreign forces continues to raise questions.

Kenya has committed 1,000 police officers to the UN-backed mission, which is being largely financed by the US and aims to counter the gangs. The deployment is set to eventually comprise up to 2,500 personnel.

But it remains unclear when the mission will begin after officials had said it could be launched to coincide with Kenyan President Ruto’s visit to the US.

Citing two unnamed sources, the Reuters news agency reported on Thursday that the deployment had been delayed.

Daniel Foote, a former US special envoy to Haiti who has been critical of the Biden administration’s policies, also told Al Jazeera earlier this week that the mission’s mandate is unclear.

“Do they have arrest authority? Are they going to be offensively going against the gangs, or are they going to be protecting infrastructure and not moving around? Nobody knows,” Foote said on Thursday after Biden and Ruto held a news conference at the White House.

Many Haitians also remain wary of outside intervention after past foreign missions failed to bring stability or address systemic problems in the country.

Most recently, a UN peacekeeping force in Haiti was linked to a deadly cholera outbreak and sexual abuse allegations.

Pressed on the new police deployment to Haiti during Thursday’s news conference, Ruto said Kenya “believes the responsibility of peace and security anywhere in the whole world, including Haiti, is the responsibility of all nations”.

The Kenyan president promised the deployment would “break the back” of gangs in the country.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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