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Kenya proposes to lead a multinational force into violence-torn Haiti


The nation of Kenya has offered to send a thousand police officers to Haiti and lead a multinational effort to support the Haitian police.


This comes just days after the U.S. State Department ordered most American citizens to leave Haiti after the kidnapping of an American nurse and her daughter. Gang violence has been widespread in Haiti since the country's president was assassinated two years ago.

MARTÍNEZ: For more on this, we're joined now by Jacqueline Charles, correspondent with the Miami Herald. Jacqueline, why has the offer come from Kenya and not Haiti's neighbors, like the U.S., maybe, for example?

JACQUELINE CHARLES: Well, the U.S. has said that they do not want to lead a force, even though they support this. They have written a resolution that's been before the U.N. Security Council now for about nine months. The U.S. had been hoping that Canada would step up and lead. And though Canada hasn't publicly said no, they also haven't raised their hands. So it's been nine months since the Haitian government requested international help, a specialized force to come in and to help the Haitian National Police. We've seen Jamaica said that they're willing to help field some sort of multinational force. But again, up until now, no one has said that, yes, we will lead it. So this development with Kenya comes after months of discussions and debates at the U.N and Kenya also saying that, you know, African nations should take more of a leadership role in helping Haiti address this security humanitarian crisis.

MARTÍNEZ: What about the country of Haiti? How are they responding?

CHARLES: Well, you know, whenever you talk about foreign intervention, it's always controversial in Haiti - right? - given the history, you know, in terms of the U.S., you know, back in the early 1900s. But when you talk to the average Haitian, they just want help. They recognize that in the country of 12 million people with only 3,500 police officers on the streets throughout the country on any given day, that that's just not going to cut it. In the last couple of weeks, we've seen a resurgence in gang violence even before this kidnapping of the American couple. You saw dozens of families basically fled, took up residency in front of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince because they had basically been pushed out of their homes by gangs. They have since left, but they are still homeless. They're now at a school, sleeping there. We've got a number of kidnappings even before this American couple. A very prominent doctor who worked in the Ministry of Health - he has been kidnapped. We have a journalist who has been held now for over a month. So people basically feel a sense of desperation and really in need of help. And at this point, let it come from where it can come from.

MARTÍNEZ: Mentioned how it's going to be an international group led by Kenya. What other countries are going to help out?

CHARLES: Well, like I said, we've already had Jamaica that has volunteered and a couple of other Caribbean countries. But yesterday, Antonio Guterres, the U.N. secretary-general, who has been pushing for, quote, unquote, "a robust force," has asked for regional countries, Haiti's neighbors, to also step up because what you're talking about is 1,000 police officers from Kenya. But what - the U.N. also recognizes that what Haiti needs is military muscle. When you look at these gangs, they are heavily armed. They control at least 80% of Port-au-Prince. You really need assets. The country doesn't have any helicopters. It doesn't have any planes. So it really needs the ability to go in there and to secure infrastructure and also to root out these gangs. So the Kenya model right now - it's a start, but it's going to take a couple of other steps. And we're going to see, you know, how this shakes out. Who else says, yes, we'll go in?

MARTÍNEZ: And when might these police officers arrive in Haiti?

CHARLES: That is unclear. Kenya's going to send an assessment team in the coming days and weeks to Haiti. And then we will have a better idea in terms of what is needed and how they're going to build this multinational force.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Jacqueline Charles covers Haiti and the Caribbean for the Miami Herald. Jacqueline, thanks a lot.

CHARLES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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