U.N. peacekeeping force at 40 percent strength and facing deteriorating security, U.N. diplomats and officials say

Friday, August 27th 2004, 6:27 am
By: News On 6

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ The U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti has just over 40 percent of its troops and is facing a deteriorating security situation with armed groups still controlling parts of the country, according to U.N. diplomats and officials.

But Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Hedi Annabi told a closed Security Council meeting Thursday that despite deteriorating security, a fragile political situation and logistical difficulties, the peacekeepers have made an encouraging start.

He said about 2,700 peacekeepers are in Haiti and the United Nations hopes to more than double the number in the next month or so, diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

That would bring it closer to the 6,700-strong force authorized by the council to replace a 3,600-strong U.S.-led multinational force sent to Haiti to restore order after a three-week rebellion culminated in the ouster of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 29.

The U.N. force is concentrated in three locations ``but they do not control the whole area yet,'' said Germany's deputy U.N. ambassador Wolfgang Trautwein. ``For example, the ports and airports are still very much under control of the militias.''

Only 240 of the 1,622 civilian police authorized by the council have arrived and the United Nations is working on getting more, especially from French-speaking countries, Annabi said, according to diplomats.

The U.N. force is led by Brazil, which has nearly 1,200 troops, mainly in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Brazil's U.N. Ambassador Ronaldo Mota Sardenberg said the force is expecting a battalion of French-speaking Africans, another battalion from Spain and Morocco, and further troops from Sri Lanka and Nepal.

But he said troop pledges still fall short of the 6,700 total.

Sardenberg said Brazil had expected the U.S.-led force to start the disarmament process but it didn't so the U.N. force will have to tackle the problem of armed groups. But it needs more troops to start the process, he said.

The other major challenge for the U.N. mission is to help organize local, parliamentary and presidential elections next year, Sardenberg said.

``This process is just beginning and it must be accelerated,'' he said.