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Officials eye cut in Haiti UN force to pre-quake level
by Staff Writers
Montevideo (AFP) Sept 8, 2011

South American nations with forces in the UN mission in Haiti opened talks Thursday on cutting troop levels, with some officials saying the unit could be cut soon to levels used before the January 2010 earthquake.

"It seems to us that a discussion is needed on a re-examination of troop levels," Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of regional defense and foreign ministers in the Uruguayan capital.

"The discussion is on getting back to previous levels," he said, referring to the 9,000-strong force in place prior to the devastating January 2010 quake.

Brazil, which commands the existing force of 12,250, is considering reducing and restructuring its contingent, the largest with around 2,000 troops.

Nine South American countries supply slightly more than 40 percent of the forces in Haiti. Nine other nations including the United States, Canada and France provide the rest.

Patriota said a restructuring could take place when the MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Force in Haiti) mandate expires October 15, at which point the UN Security Council will take up its future.

The force was first deployed in 2004 to demobilize militias that had arisen after the Haitian army was disbanded following a coup. It has since provided security through political turbulence and the catastrophic earthquake that killed an estimated 225,000 people early last year.

The move to rethink the role of the MINUSTAH peacekeeping force comes as it is increasingly under fire in Haiti -- blamed for a cholera epidemic and more recently the sexual assault of a Haitian youth allegedly committed by Uruguayan soldiers.

Haiti President Michel Martelly has said he wants to create a modern army to replace the UN force, and MINUSTAH has increasingly become a sore point with Haitians.

Some have blame UN peacekeepers from Nepal for introducing a deadly cholera outbreak in the country.

More recently, video images circulating on the Internet that allegedly shows peacekeepers sexually assaulting an 18-year-old male in the small coastal village of Port-Salut also has fueled public anger with the force.

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica released a letter on Tuesday apologizing for "the outrage" committed by the soldiers, and promising an investigation.

The five peacekeepers accused of sexual assault are to be sent home this week, the Uruguayan defense minister said.

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