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UN chief in Jamaica urges international response to Haiti's spiraling crisis

U.N secretary General Antonio Guterres addresses the media during a visit to the U.N. office in the capital Nairobi, Kenya, Wednesday, May 3, 2023. Guterres said the international community needs to come together and put pressure on warring generals in Sudan for the conflict to end. (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — U.N. Secretary General António Guterres warned Monday that Haiti’s “tragic situation” is threatening the security of the Caribbean region and beyond as he pressed the international community for a response.

Guterres spoke after meeting behind closed doors with Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness in his first visit to the island, which comes more than three months after Holness announced that his government was willing to send soldiers and police officers to Haiti as part of a proposed international armed forces deployment.

Guterres noted that no other country has stepped forward despite the plea from Haiti’s prime minister and other top officials last October for the immediate deployment of an international force to fight a surge in gang violence.

“We are kind of in a stalemate right now,” he said, adding that it’s been difficult to mobilize the will of countries who could best lead such an operation.

Holness, who visited Haiti in February as part of a regional push to help mediate the country's crisis, said countries that would support such a deployment want to first see political consensus in Haiti and a timeframe for ending the proposed deployment.

“It is not that our pleas have fallen on deaf ears,” he said. “It is being heard to and listened to. The question is the pace of action.”

Haiti’s capital and surrounding areas have largely succumbed to warring gangs that have invaded neighborhoods and killed people in a fight to control more territory, with the U.N. estimating that they now control up to 80% of Port-au-Prince.

The violence has worsened since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. More than 840 people were killed in the first three months of this year, in addition to more than 600 people slain in the month of April alone, according to the U.N. More than 400 people also have been kidnapped so far this year.

“You have dramatic humanitarian needs. You have a political system that is paralyzed, and you have levels of violence by gangs that are absolutely appalling,” Guterres said.

He previously said that insecurity in Haiti had reached “levels comparable to countries in armed conflict.”

The deaths have prompted a growing number of angry and frustrated Haitians to unleash gruesome vigilante justice, lynching at least 164 alleged gang members last month, according to the U.N.

Frantz Elbé, director of Haiti’s National Police, said in a video posted on social media Saturday that officers are fighting gangs, seizing weapons and releasing hostages, but he did not provide any figures.

The U.N. has noted that just over 13,000 officers are on active duty in a country of more than 11 million people, with at least 21 police officers reported killed in the first three months of this year.

“I want to once again ask the international community to understand that an effective solidarity with Haiti is not only a matter of generosity,” Guterres said. “It’s essentially a matter of enlightened self-interest because the present situation in Haiti reflects a threat, a threat to the security of the whole region and further afield.”