Ten killed in Port-au-Prince suburb as tensions rise in Haiti

A woman is comforted by others at a crime scene where the bodies of several people, who had been shot dead earlier in the morning amid an escalation in gang violence, were being removed by an ambulance, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti March 18, 2024. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol

At least ten people were killed in a wealthy suburb of Haiti’s capital on Monday, there were reports of looting, and thefts of electricity equipment cut the power supply as lawlessness spread to affluent areas and gangs tightened their grip on the city.

A Reuters witness saw at least ten dead bodies, at least some of which had bulletholes, on Monday morning in the streets of upscale Petion-Ville on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, which were later removed by ambulance. Authorities have not commented on the events surrounding the deaths.

Haitians also reported gunfire and looting on Monday morning in the nearby area of Laboule. Later, the streets around Petion-Ville were practically deserted.

Meanwhile, the EDH electricity service said several stations had been attacked and that cables, batteries and documents were stolen.

Armed gangs who have been increasing their power in recent years took advantage of the absence earlier this month of Prime Minister Ariel Henry to escalate violence, attacking infrastructure including police stations and government offices.

Under international pressure and stranded in Puerto Rico, the unelected Henry announced his resignation pending the appointment of a council and temporary replacement a week ago, but the transition council has yet to be appointed amid disagreements by some of the groups putting forward representatives.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said the council’s membership could be finalized “very soon,” and that an update could come later on Monday.00:17Why author Garcia Marquez’s son ‘betrayed’ his father

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Local media reported Haiti’s Catholic Church would not participate in the council, as had been previously expected, in order to maintain a “moral distance,” although it was quoted as saying that it hoped all sectors would seek a resolution to the crisis.

The church’s episcopal council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Leaders of the armed groups who have long sought to oust Henry have warned of a “battle” for Haiti and threatened politicians who join the transition council. Residents are facing worsening shortages of food and medical care as shipping firms have changed routes.

Over the weekend, U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said one of its containers of “essential items” for maternal, neo-natal and childcare was stolen from Haiti’s main port.

The international presence in Haiti has declined as the insecurity has risen.

The United Nations and U.S. and Canadian embassies have withdrawn staff this month.

Over the weekend, the Dominican Republic – which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti – evacuated dozens of its citizens by helicopter, while the Philippines’ PNA state news agency said it would repatriate at least 63 of 115 nationals and was looking for options such as chartering a flight. Commercial flights have been suspended.

Around 17,000 people left the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area last week, according to U.N. estimates. Many of those had already been displaced.

Neighboring countries have been bolstering their borders. Plans for an international intervention, which Haiti’s government requested in 2022 and was ratified by the U.N. nearly six months ago, remain on hold.

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