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UN troops fire into poor neighborhood { August 28 2006 }

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UN “Peacekeepers” Shoot Into Poor Neighborhood in Haiti
by Judith Scherr

August 28, 2006

On a quest to evaluate whether life in Haiti is improving under the new presidency of René Préval, retired postal employee David Welsh of Berkeley, Calif. and Haiti Action Committee activist Ben Terrell of San Francisco got a poignant answer – from the barrel of U.N. rifles.

On Thursday, Welsh, Terrell and three others in a delegation that had been meeting with Haitian activists in Port-au-Prince, went to Cité Soleil, a desperately poor seaside shantytown where Lavalas remains strong.

(Lavalas is the political movement of the popular leader Jean Bertrand Aristide, forced out of office in 2004 by U.S. forces and exiled in South Africa. After his removal, the U.S. sent in Marines to police the country. A few months later, the Marines were replaced by UN troops, which occupy Haiti today.)

Accompanied by four Haitians, the foreigners entered Simon Pele, a Cité Soleil neighborhood where U.N. troops had reportedly attacked people in recent weeks. The plan was for the group to interview residents to ascertain what actually had happened at that time.

“We saw a church and a health clinic and a school that had been completely blasted away and couldn’t operate any more,” Welsh said.

They had just begun to interview people, when they saw four UN armored personnel carriers approaching. “Two went down one street and two came down the street we were on,” Welsh said in an interview in Berkeley on Saturday. Market stalls were operating in front of the houses and there were many people on the street, including children, Welsh said.

Accompanying the APCs, manned by Brazilian soldiers, was a UN bulldozer and a UN dump truck filled with sand. The sand was dumped and the bulldozer scooped it up, placing it to form a barrier in a roadway “apparently to block an escape route from the neighborhood,” said Terrell in a phone interview from Haiti on Sunday.

From previous experience, people understood that this was the first step in a U.N. “operation” that would culminate in an attack on the neighborhood, Welsh said, adding that the bulldozer and dump truck seemed to scare the people more than the familiar sight of the occupying troops atop the APCs.

Then the troops started firing. “They were shooting down the street and into houses,” said Welsh, describing the shots as repeated and apparently random. Both Welsh and Terrell said they heard two pops coming from the direction of the houses, which they said could have been return fire from a small caliber weapon.

The soldiers ignored the foreigners, who filmed and photographed the incident, hoping that their presence would deter a full-scale assault by the UN soldiers on the people. “We tried to talk to them, but they wouldn’t talk to us,” said Welsh, who, for some of the time, was as close as five feet from where the soldiers were shooting. At one point, “I saw five or six Brazilians run out of the APCs and into the neighborhood,” Terrell said.

Welsh commented that one of the Brazilians firing his weapon waved the foreigners out of the way, so that he could shoot down the street.

In discussions with Haitian friends after the incident, Terrell concluded that “The UN is not telling the truth to Préval and those in the administration who want to help the people. They’re saying people in the neighborhoods fired first. That’s not what we saw and it’s not what we’ve been told. The UN so called ‘peacekeepers’ are playing a very destructive role. If these are legitimate cases where they need to arrest people, they can do it like police operations.”

One death and nine injuries were reported that day, Terrell said, although, having left the area as soon as it was safe to do so, members of the delegation were unable to independently verify these figures.

Judith Scherr is a San Francisco Bay Area-based Reporter

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