PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A new report advises against the swift departure of a United Nations mission in Haiti despite debate over the peacekeeping force's eight-year presence.
The International Crisis Group's study released Thursday noted that discussion about the UN peacekeepers' eventual withdrawal has intensified under President Michel Martelly. During his presidential campaign, Martelly had expressed interest in the force's early departure.
But the Group said the troops shouldn't be forced to leave too soon. It also said the mission should change its focus from peacekeeping to a more political role by reducing the number of troops and creating new priorities, including a focus on development.
"Any abrupt removal of the mission will create a security vacuum and encourage organized crime and violence," the study said. "There is no transition or exit strategy as yet."
The peacekeeping force known by its French acronym as Minustah was established in 2004 after a politically tumultuous period marked by the ouster of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Many Aristide supporters and others have criticized the U.N. peacekeepers, calling them an occupying force and pointing to their role in several abuse scandals. But others have praised the mission for ensuring two democratic transfers of power and providing stability in the country of about 10 million people.
The report recommended that the U.N. mission apologize for its likely introduction of a cholera outbreak that surfaced several months after the devastating January 2010 earthquake, and to move quickly to stem the spread of the disease. Cholera has sickened more than half a million Haitians, killing more than 7,000, and souring relations between the mission and the Haitian people.
The nonprofit group also advised the Haitian government to put off efforts to re-establish the army until a national consensus has been obtained. As a candidate, Martelly said he hoped to revive Haiti's armed forces, but that idea has been met with opposition since he became president, with some diplomats saying that money should be invested instead in the country's understaffed national police force.
Former Haitian soldiers and their younger supporters, hopeful about the possible return of the army, seized several former military barracks and other public facilities earlier this year. Police and the U.N. closed the de facto military bases in May.