In worsening gang fighting in Haiti, 20 dead, thousands displaced | Political news
The increase in violence comes as gangs tighten their grip on the island following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
Criminal violence in Haiti has escalated this week, with fighting between rival gangs in part of the capital killing at least 20 people, including children, and forcing thousands to flee their homes.
Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency (DPA) said fighting began Sunday in four neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, north of the international airport. At least a dozen homes were burned down and many of those who fled first took refuge in the courtyard of the local mayor’s office.
The eruption comes amid a spike in violence and kidnappings as gangs grow more powerful and seek to control more territory in the power vacuum following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7, 2021.
The situation has angered and frustrated many Haitians, who are demanding action from Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s administration, which is receiving international aid to bolster an underfunded and understaffed police force.
Henry’s term expired on February 7, but no date has been set for the election, amid a political stalemate over how and when to hold a vote.
A family of eight, including six children, are among those killed since Sunday, authorities said Wednesday.
Area schools and businesses remain closed as thousands of families with children camp out in a park near the local mayor’s office.
“They need water, food, supplies,” Jean Raymond Dorcely, who heads a small grassroots community organization, told The Associated Press. “They must have left with nothing in their hands.”
He said the neighborhood is generally quiet and his child often plays in the park now converted into a makeshift outdoor shelter.
“I see children crying because they are hungry and the families have nothing to provide for them,” he said, adding that the needs were increasing as the fighting continued. “I don’t know how it’s going to be tomorrow.”
Authorities said in addition to the dead, two dozen people were injured in the violence and a bullet hit an empty United Nations Humanitarian Air Service helicopter parked near the airport.
Officials have warned that major roads leading to the northern region of Haiti could be cut off as a result of the fighting.
The DPA blamed this week’s violence on a fight between the Chen Mechan gang and the rival 400 Mawozo gang which was implicated in the kidnapping of 17 missionaries last year.
“Armed men from the ‘400 Mawozo’ gang set fire to my house” and “killed several of my neighbors before also burning their homes,” Lucien, who lives in a northern neighborhood, told AFP. .
“They rape women and girls when they manage to enter a house,” said Lucien, who preferred not to give his full name for fear of reprisals.
The resurgence of violence in recent days has forced Lucien to leave his home to take refuge with his sick mother in a public square on Tuesday.
The DPA also criticized political leaders, saying their inaction and silence brought “a form of cynicism or disregard for human rights, in particular[ly] the right to life and security”.
“This situation, which has worsened due to bloody clashes between rival gangs, has led to the forced displacement of many families who have had to leave their homes to escape the fury of armed groups operating with ease and indifference. total from state authorities,” the agency said in a statement.
The group also said the violence is likely to escalate in the coming days, resulting in more casualties and more people displaced from their homes.