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Haiti needs stability to remove threat from ex-soldiers -UN

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 9 Mar 2012 22:12 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON, March 9 (Reuters) - Haiti badly needs political stability to help head off potential trouble from military training camps run by disgruntled former soldiers, the head of the U.N. security mission to Haiti said on Friday.

The camps that have sprung up around the impoverished Caribbean nation are headed by handfuls of former soldiers looking for pension payments and joined by jobless young people, said Mariano Fernandez, the head of the U.N. force known as MINUSTAH.

Political stability depends on parliament confirming President Michel Martelly's nominee as prime minister in order for the government to move ahead with measures to boost security, pay pensions and provide jobs, he said.

"We have growing violence each time you don't have a government," Fernandez said at a discussion at the Inter-American Dialogue think tank.

The biggest camp is at Lamentin, about 5 miles (8 km) west of central Port-Au-Prince, the capital. About 1,000 men are training there with a core of 20 to 30 former soldiers, Fernandez said.

The groups at the camps have little more than old handguns and rifles and T-shirts, he said.

"Nothing that can challenge the 10,000 professional soldiers (and police) that we have in Haiti," said Fernandez, a former Chilean foreign minister, referring to the military contingent of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

The former soldiers have ignored government pleas to put down their arms and last week Martelly, a popular singer known by his stage name Sweet Mickey, asked police officials and lawmakers to find ways to clear the sites.

The camps' emergence comes against a backdrop of international concern over a push by Martelly to revive Haiti's army, which was disbanded in 1995 after brutal military rule.

Haiti has a woefully under-manned police force of about 10,000, which is expected to grow to 15,000 over the next three years under a U.N. training program.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission comes up for annual renewal at the Security Council in October. It is expected to be renewed despite its reputation being tarnished by accusations that Nepalese U.N. troops were responsible for a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 7,000 Haitians since October 2010.

Martelly has named Foreign Minister Laurent Lamothe to be prime minister and parliament needs to confirm him quickly to fill the political vacuum, Fernandez said.

Lamothe would replace Garry Conille, who resigned after four months on the job. The political paralysis comes as Haiti is still recovering from an earthquake two years ago that killed more than 200,000. (Reporting By Ian Simpson; Editing by David Adams and Bill Trott)

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