Friday, October 18, 2013

Armed bandits testing Haiti’s understaffed police forces

Petit-Goâve, Haiti -- Haitian police inspector Charles Francois glances in and out of the mirrors of his moving patrol vehicle, keeping his eyes on the surrounding hills, looking for any signs of the masked gunmen behind a rash of roadside robberies and armed attacks in this otherwise peaceful costal city.

“We are going to get them,” Francois, on the job just two weeks, said before pulling up at one of several heavily armed police checkpoints on National Road 2, where specially trained Haiti National Police officers recently deployed from Port-au-Prince are conducting checks. “The population is fed up with this situation.”

For Haiti’s struggling but improving police force, and the United Nations security forces backing them up, tracking down the armed bandits behind the reign of terror in Petit-Goâve is about more than returning calm to this mountainous region 40 miles west of the capital.

It has become a test of the police’s ability to take the lead in securing an unpredictable Haiti. It’s also a reality check in how limited the 10,181-member force is in stabilizing a country where violent crime sprees by well-armed gangs have long been connected with powerful politicians.

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