Multinational Force to Help Haitian Police Disarm Populace
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 10, 2004 Multinational troops in Haiti will assist national police in maintaining the peace and to disarm citizens bearing arms illegally, the U.S. officer in charge of the nine-day-old operation said here today.
"I've authorized the Multinational Interim Force in Haiti to support the police in the disarmament of the illegally armed civilians in accordance with Haitian law," Army Gen. James T. Hill, commander of U.S. Southern Command based in Miami, told Pentagon reporters.
Hill, who noted he'd visited Haiti last week to talk with Haitian officials, was in Washington for discussions with senior Pentagon leaders.
The general said 1,600 American troops primarily Marines are in Haiti, along with 516 French troops, 328 Chilean military members, and about 52 Canadian forces. Another 400 Canadian forces, he added, are expected to arrive in Haiti soon.
Any illegally armed civilians encountered by MIF patrols, Hill asserted, "will be immediately disarmed to ensure force protection of the multinational force."
Disarming Haitians is difficult for the task force, Hill maintained, because "there are many illegally armed gangs and groups in Haiti."
U.S. Marines "have been fired on a handful of times since deploying to Haiti," Hill said, noting all MIF members have the right to protect themselves. Press reports say several Haitians have been shot and killed after attacking U.S. Marines.
United States troops are part of a U.N.-authorized, multinational force sent to Haiti to restore order in the economically depressed, troubled country. The MIF, Hill said, now is primarily occupied in restoring order in the capital city of Port-au-Prince and nearby areas.
Law and order was breaking down in Haiti even before former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, who'd been accused of corruption, resigned his office Feb. 29 and departed for exile in Africa. A rebel army vowing to remove Aristide was preparing to march into Port-au-Prince as looters took to the streets.