Talks push on in Haiti as gangs choke capital

A man walks past the body of a person who was among a dozen killed in the street by gang members, in Pétionville, Port-au-Prince, Haiti (Clarens SIFFROY)
A man walks past the body of a person who was among a dozen killed in the street by gang members, in Pétionville, Port-au-Prince, Haiti (Clarens SIFFROY)

Negotiations to form a transitional council to govern Haiti advanced on Wednesday, as the United States airlifted more citizens to safety from gang violence that has plunged the impoverished country into chaos.

Haiti has been rocked by a surge of unrest since February when armed groups raided a prison, releasing thousands of inmates, as they demanded Prime Minister Ariel Henry resign.

Last week Henry agreed to step down and allow the formation of an interim government, but negotiations have been slow despite pressure from neighboring Caribbean countries and the United States.

"Discussions continue. I'm sure it will take a little bit of time, But from all indications, it's moving along," Guyana's ambassador to the UN, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, said.

A Haitian government source told AFP that no list of names for the council had yet been given to outgoing prime minister Henry as the talks among political parties and others dragged on.

President Jovenel Moise, who appointed Henry, was assassinated in 2021 and never replaced. The council would name an interim prime minister to oversee the country's first elections since 2016.

- 'Ruined' -

Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince has been overrun by armed groups for weeks, with many police stations, power stations, public buildings and facilities attacked, and dead bodies left strewn in the street.

Shooting erupted again Tuesday and Wednesday in outlying parts of the capital, according to residents, with locals barricading roads to impede gang access and to protect themselves.

"I'm ruined," Gerard Vil, a street trader in the capital, told AFP. "I sold things in the center of Port-au-Prince. Since insecurity has skyrocketed, you can no longer sell there."

The violence has exacerbated an already grim humanitarian situation, with warnings of famine, malnutrition and the collapse of basic services.

The United States on Wednesday evacuated more citizens, taking them by helicopter from Port-au-Prince to the neighboring Dominican Republic.

"We do expect these helicopter movements to make multiple trips in order to try and get as many American citizens as we can," State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.

Henry meanwhile has been stranded in Puerto Rico after the gangs' coordinated attacks began while he was visiting Kenya to try to nail down a plan for Nairobi to lead a UN-approved police force to restore order in Haiti.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged Haitian stakeholders to put aside their differences and unite behind the plan for a transitional council.

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA reported Wednesday that medicine, blood bags and other supplies had been flown into Haiti, with health facilities severely affected by the violence.