UN welcomes reports Haiti transition council nearly ready as conflict flares

By Thomson Reuters Mar 21, 2024 | 5:36 PM

By Sarah Morland and Ralph Tedy Erol

(Reuters) – United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed reports that Haitian political groups have selected all members of a transitional council set to assume presidential powers ahead of future elections, a U.N. spokesperson said on Thursday.

Haiti has been engulfed in violence in recent weeks as conflict escalated between government authorities and armed gangs, which have grown their influence over the capital, Port-au-Prince, since the country’s president was assassinated in 2021.

The council, intended to bring together Haiti’s fractured political class, is mandated with appointing a replacement to de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who resigned on March 11.

It will also wield certain presidential powers until elections can be held.

“The Secretary-General welcomes reports that Haitian stakeholders have all nominated representatives to the Transitional Presidential Council,” deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq said at a press briefing.

The transition plan was brokered in Jamaica by the intergovernmental Caribbean Community (CARICOM), alongside representatives of Haiti’s government and opposition. CARICOM released a list of political groups that would be represented in the council.

The nine-member council was initially expected to be finalized within a couple of days of Henry’s resignation, but some Haitian political factions were unable to unite behind one representative.

One party rejected the plan altogether then backtracked, while groups left out of the plan criticized the return of politicians from previous administrations seen as corrupt.

Gang leader Jimmy “Barbeque” Cherizier has threatened reprisals against politicians and their families if they take part in the proposed council.

Even as the council seemed to near completion, heavy gunfire was heard on Thursday near the National Palace in downtown Port-au-Prince.

On Wednesday suspected gang members in the capital’s Petion-Ville suburb, which has been under attack over recent days, were killed and set on fire in what appeared to be the resurgence of a civilian vigilante movement known as Bwa Kale.

Local media reported another Bwa Kale killing outside the capital on Thursday, though Reuters was unable to verify this.

The state has been largely absent during the violence and police are ill-equipped against heavily armed criminal groups seeking to expand their territorial control of the capital city. Plans for an international security mission, requested by Henry in 2022, remain on hold.

Haq said the international force’s swift deployment was critical for the political and security situations to improve.

He said the U.N. would support restoring Haiti’s democratic institutions and called for the protection of civilians.

The U.N. and other international bodies and embassies have been evacuating staff and other foreigners by helicopter because Haiti’s main airport is not secure.

The U.S. government on Thursday organized the departure of 90 U.S. citizens from Haiti’s northern city of Cap-Haitien to Miami as well as from Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic, in addition to 70 it has flown out since Sunday, a State Department spokesperson said.

(Reporting by Sarah Morland in Mexico City and Ralph Tedy Erol in Port-au-Prince, additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Editing by Nia Williams)