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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Gangs make advances as conditions in Haiti worsen

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Haiti's gangs have made advances in Port-au-Prince, a UN official reported on Thursday, with political parties inching towards forming a transition government and new bloodshed roiling the troubled Caribbean nation. Police in Port-au-Prince confirmed that a major gang leader, Ernst Julme, known as Ti Greg, was slain in a clash with security forces. Julme led the Delmas 95 gang.


Addressing a news conference from Haiti via videolink, Ulrika Richardson, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the country, said daily life had become defined by roadblocks and the sound of gunshots, describing "enormous" amounts of people displaced as gangs "take over" neighbourhoods in the city. The country has been rocked by violence since late February, when the country's gangs launched a coordinated offensive, raiding a prison and releasing thousands of inmates as they demanded Prime Minister Ariel Henry resign.


Henry, stranded in Puerto Rico after the violence shut down the main airport, has since agreed to step down and allow the formation of an interim government. But negotiations have been slow despite pressure from neighbouring Caribbean countries and the United States. Meanwhile, police are struggling as armed groups in recent days "advanced into new areas of the capital," Richardson told reporters. "We see people coming in with gunshot wounds from many areas around Port-au-Prince."


Richardson's comments came as gunshots were again ringing out in Port-au-Prince and the hilly neighbouring suburb of Petion-ville on Thursday afternoon, residents said. The day prior, in the town of Lascahobas, some 80 kilometres from the capital, Haitian police said an alleged gang member was taken from their custody by an angry mob and lynched.


The UN Security Council called on countries to enforce an existing arms embargo on Haiti, amid "grave concern at the illicit flow of arms and ammunition into Haiti that remains a fundamental factor of instability and violence." "The members of the Security Council reiterated their full support for a Haitian-led, Haitian-owned political process," the Security Council statement said, urging the eventual organisation of "free and fair legislative and presidential elections."


President Jovenel Moise, who appointed Henry, was assassinated in 2021 and never replaced. Henry has led the country since, with no elections held since 2016. The transitional council currently being organised would name an interim prime minister to oversee a national vote. But the council, comprising representatives of Haitian political parties, is struggling to take shape. After several days of tumultuous negotiations, all parties appeared to settle on a choice of representative on Thursday. The left-wing Pitit Desalin party, which had initially decided not to be represented, reversed its decision.


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