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Crime, drugs threaten Haiti election: UN report

by Staff Writers
United Nations (AFP) Sept 2, 2010
A growing use of weapons and cocaine trading through quake-stricken Haiti threaten stability ahead of key November elections, the United Nations said Thursday.

A new report on the impoverished Caribbean state, where a magnitude 7.0 earthquake on January 12 killed 250,000 people, said criminal gangs are increasing their grip on many of the 1,300 camps where most of the estimated 1.3 million homeless are still based.

Presidential and legislative elections are to be held on November 28 and the report said "the electoral period may bring to the fore new threats to stability."

The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) "has noted an increasing number of weapons in circulation, especially in traditionally high crime areas of the capital.

"In addition, there is a risk that campaigning for the forthcoming elections -- particularly the legislative -- may be tainted by financing from illegal activities, including the drug trade which continues to be a destabilizing factor in Haiti."

The MINUSTAH report said incidents of kidnapping for ransom have increased since the quake and illegal airstrips and isolated beaches on the northern coast are again being used for narcotics trafficking.

Haiti is a major transit point for cocaine and other drugs sent to the United States.

"Drug trans-shipment through Haiti is an underlying problem, that if unchecked, will undermine all efforts by the government and the international community to build state institutions and political stability," the UN said.

The report said the cocaine trade has "reportedly increased" since the quake because of the weakened government and in spite of heightened air and land patrols by UN forces.

"Drug money, which continues to weave its way into the state apparatus, has had a corrosive effect on key rule of law institutions, including customs and judicial officials."

The report urged the international community to do more to help battle narcotics trafficking in Haiti.

It blamed much of the increased crime on inmates who escaped jails during the quake and said that out of 5,409 prisoners that managed to get out only 629 had been recaptured by August 11.

The country's supreme court, the cour de cassation, is still not working as there are five vacancies among the judges. No court president has yet been named.

The report painted a desolate picture of Haiti's infrastructure, estimating that almost a quarter of the 230,000 buildings damaged, including about 150,000 houses, would have to be demolished.

The process of returning people to their homes "remains slow and reconstruction is still hampered by immense amounts of rubble and debris," it said.

The report added that landowners were increasingly throwing people off makeshift camps set up after the quake.

The mandate of current President Rene Preval ends on February 7 after a maximum two terms.

The report said the November elections "must be credible and legitimate in order to bring in a president and government with a clear and uncontested mandate to lead the reconstruction process."

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