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Posted Friday, November 9, 2007
U.N. occupation forces to remain in an interrupted troubled Haiti for years
By The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP)--U.N. peacekeepers will likely remain in Haiti for several more years because the troubled Caribbean country is not close to managing its own security, the mission's new chief envoy said Thursday.

Hedi Annabi, in his first interview since assuming control of a 7,000-member U.N. force and thousands of international staff in Haiti, told The Associated Press that the U.N. mission has made great strides, but will not seek to leave the volatile country anytime soon.

"The security situation is extremely fragile. And if we were to downsize dramatically there would be a vacuum that would be immediately backfilled by the same people that were there when we got started," said Annabi, sitting in his office in the hills above Port-au-Prince.

When asked how long that might take, Annabi said: "You don't create a security force, a police force, in two or three years. ... It takes 10, 15, 20 years."

Haiti's capital fell into chaos after a 2004 revolt toppled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Since the uprising, the U.N. peacekeeping force has provided the only real security for an unstable nation of about 8.7 million.

A U.N.-led crackdown against gangs in the city's violent slums has reduced shootings, but rampant poverty and unemployment threatens to break the peace. The U.N. Security Council recently renewed the U.N. mission through October 2008.

Many Haitians have been calling on the U.N. force to foster development in the country, but Annabi said Thursday that is not the role of U.N. troops.

"What we do is we create the environment in which job creation, investment and economic reconstruction can take place. We don't do it ourselves," Annabi said.

The Tunisian diplomat has already had his share of challenges since arriving in Haiti a little more than a week ago. On Oct. 28, Tropical Storm Noel began dumping water on an already rain-soaked country, killing at least 66 Haitians and creating thousands of refugees.

With the government unable to deal with the crisis, U.N. peacekeepers were dispatched to set up shelters and manage the flow of displaced people.

Annabi paid a visit to one overcrowded shelter on Nov. 1 in the Port-au-Prince slum of Cite Soleil. Evacuees who just moments before had been cursing soldiers erupted into cheers and gathered around the baldheaded, bespectacled man.

That Annabi could even visit the slum was considered a victory of sorts. Little more than a year ago, while accompanying then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Annabi had to tour the slum in an armored vehicle for fear of gang attacks.

Annabi also already had to deal with a sex scandal involving 108 Sri Lankan peacekeepers and three commanders who were expelled amid allegations that soldiers patronized underage prostitutes. He expressed regret for the incident and said a probe is continuing.

Annabi comes to Haiti after nearly a decade as the U.N.'s assistant secretary- general for peacekeeping operations. Though he visited the Caribbean nation several times as part of his oversight role, he acknowledges he is "not an expert on Haiti."

"I learned during the period when I dealt with Southeast Asia that you don't necessarily become an expert even after 10 years," Annabi said. "The more you learn, the more you discover there is more to learn."

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