Canadian troops calming Haiti capital
Date: Tuesday, April 06 2004
Topic: Military, Security, and Defence
The presence of 500 Canadian soldiers has already had a notable impact in calming Haiti's notoriously dangerous capital but the threat of violence persists, the commander of the Canadian contingent said Tuesday.
In a teleconference call from Port-au-Prince, Lt.-Col. Jim Davis said hundreds of armed thugs and gang members pose a significant challenge.
"The security environment in Haiti remains unpredictable," said Davis.
"The underlying threat of violence remains, controlled only by the presence of competent, well-equipped soldiers."
Troops from the 2nd Royal Canadian Regiment were sent into Port-au-Prince three weeks ago as part of a multinational military force aiming to restore order.
The country had been wracked by violence that forced then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to flee Feb. 29.
Prime Minister Paul Martin announced Canada would contribute about 425 soldiers but David said that number grew to more than 500 once a needs assessment was done.
The troops arrived to find members of the U.S. force facing nightly attacks.
"As we entered and began to fan out . . . the rival gangs that are in situ were contesting our presence," said Davis.
"Since then, that has subsided."
Most gratifying, he said, is that it has become obvious that the international troops are bringing stability to the country.
Attendance at schools has increased and people are going about their daily business.
"We've witnessed the return of Haitians back to their normal daily lifestyles and routines unabated by the previous criminal threats that existed prior to our arrival."
Part of the problem facing the troops is the huge numbers of weapons in the city. Haitians have the constitutional right to be armed to defend themselves and their property.
Haiti does not have a military and many members of the police force fled the capital when Aristide did. They have now started returning.
Davis said police officers have begun joint patrols with the Canadian troops, who are looking after some of the capital's poorest areas, as a confidence builder.
Canada's forces are due to stay in Port-au-Prince for 90 days as part of Operation HALO.
Credit: Colin Perkel || Canadian Press