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Head of Kenyan force in Haiti says there is no room for failure

“THERE’S no room for failure,” the head of the US-backed multinational force tasked with curbing gang violence in Haiti said on Monday, adding that the UN-backed police mission was committed to ensuring that democratic elections can take place.

Kenyan officer Godfrey Otunge was speaking during a nationally broadcast news conference, giving his first public remarks as the leader of the force that is acting as the face of the US-financed intervention.

The US has pledged over $300 million (around £234m) in support of the Kenyan-led mission. 

Mr Otunge said: “We have a job that we are committed to do.

“We intend to achieve this by working closely with Haitian authorities and local and international partners dedicated to a new Haiti.”

But major questions remain about the Kenyan force, which arrived late last month in Haiti — months after powerful gangs had seized control of most of the capital Port-au-Prince and caused the prime minister to resign.

The Kenyan police come to Haiti with their own baggage, having long been accused by watchdogs and witnesses of human rights abuses at home, including in recent protests over tax rises.

Kenya has pledged 1,000 officers to the international police force.

New Haitian Prime Minister Garry Conille told the UN security council last week that the initial contingent of 200 officers would soon be joined by police from the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin, Chad and Jamaica, bringing the number of personnel to a total of 2,500.

Mr Conille, appointed by a transitional council in May, has admitted that the history of foreign intervention in his country is a “mixed bag” that has included human rights abuses and a “lack of respect for sovereignty and local culture.”

Mr Otunge said the new mission aimed to “create security conditions conducive to holding free and fair elections.”

Haitian police chief Normil Rameau also addressed the nation on Monday, saying that the mission was focused on reclaiming all areas from gang control, reinstating a police presence in regions lacking authority and helping Haitians displaced by the gangs to return home.

More than half a million people have been uprooted by the violence.

Haiti asked for an international force to combat gangs in 2022, but UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres appealed for months for a country to lead the force before the US persuaded Kenya to take on the task.

The gangs have grown in power since the July 7 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise and are now estimated to control up to 80 per cent of Port-au-Prince. 

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