PARIS — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday that he would like to see the MINUSTAH peacekeeping force in Haiti gradually reduced in size as the country stabilizes after a devastating 2010 earthquake.
In a pre-recorded interview due to be broadcast by RFI radio and TV5 Monde on Sunday, Ban also apologised for a recent sexual assault carried out by UN peacekeepers in the country, branding it “totally unacceptable.”
Frustration at MINUSTAH’s performance has been mounting in Haiti, and has been compounded by public anger over the rape case and reports linking a deadly cholera outbreak to raw sewage leaking from a UN base.
“I think it is an appropriate time for us to do a gradual drawdown of MINUSTAH, so that this role can be handled by Haitian people,” Ban said, while adding that this would be discussed with the Haitian government.
Ban praised the “important role” played by MINUSTAH since 2004, when it was deployed to disarm militias that sprang up when the army was disbanded, but added: “I can also understand the frustrations of the Haitian people.”
The MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Force in Haiti) mandate expires on October 15, at which point the UN Security Council will take up its future.
It currently comprises over 8,700 soldiers and 3,500 police.
Speaking on the sidelines of a UN Security Council meeting on Haiti, MINUSTAH chief Mariano Fernandez said the force would drop to a total of 9,450 soldiers and police from the current level.
“The Haitian people have showed great force and determination that should be applauded despite facing so many challenges and catastrophes of all sorts,” Fernandez said.
“The force reduction should be replaced by greater emphasis on the quality and specialization of police,” he added, noting the need for the creation of a top-flight police academy.
But Fernandez also stressed that the humanitarian situation in Haiti, where 640,000 people still live in temporary camps, “remains a concern.”
After the January 2010 earthquake, the number of MINUSTAH personnel grew from 9,000 to 12,250.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, who commands the military force in Haiti, agreed that the conditions were “ripe for us to return to the pre-earthquake troop level.”
Speaking in an interview with the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, he said the outcome of elections held earlier this year had shown a “stable environment” was developing in the country.
Five Uruguayan peacekeepers have been accused of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old man in the small coastal town of Port-Salut. They returned to Montevideo on Friday, local media reported.
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica apologized to his Haitian counterpart, Michel Martelly, for the “abuse” and vowed to apply the “maximum punishment” to those responsible.
Haitian youths led violent protests Wednesday in Port-au-Prince demanding the withdrawal of MINUSTAH peacekeepers amid outrage over the sex scandal.