Haiti's new president said Friday that U.N. peacekeepers have committed "unacceptable errors" in his country but they should remain to help with the stalled post-earthquake reconstruction.
President Michel Martelly's first speech to the U.N. General Assembly bridged the anti-U.N. sentiment he campaigned on in an election held months after the January 2010 earthquake with his more concilatory approach to the foreign troops since taking office.
"I am aware of the fact that unacceptable errors were committed that marred the prestige of the mission, but the trees must not hide the forest," Martelly said.
Martelly also acknowledged the stalled efforts in the Caribbean nation of 10 million to recover from the horrific earthquake by calling for better coordination in relief efforts along with more effort to allow affected, often impoverished countries to take a leading role in their own rebuilding.
"We've experienced epidemics, hunger, exclusion, but Haiti is now back on its feet ready to rebuild itself," he said.
At times the president seemed to be speaking more to Haitians who might have been listening at home than to the assembly. Near the end the president, who has a shaved head, broke into a Haitian Creole phrase quoting his campaign slogan "Tet Kale", or "bald head." Martelly, a longtime performer and recording artist with the stage name Sweet Micky, popularized a type of Haitian dance music known as compas.
The president's position regarding the U.N. peacekeeping force has been a major theme of his diplomacy during the opening week of the General Assembly. The force has been in Haiti since 2004. It was hard-hit by the earthquake but increased its troop levels to more than 12,000 soldiers and police in the weeks that followed.
There have been mixed feelings about the troops for years, seen by some Haitians as a vital security force in a country with an understaffed and underpaid police force and others as an unwelcome military occupier.
Sentiment in Haiti has turned further against the U.N. mission following claims, since backed up by scientific studies, that an unsanitary base that used by peacekeepers from Nepal was the source of a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 6,200 people.
Then this month, five sailors with the mission were repatriated to Uruguay and jailed after a cell-phone video surfaced which opponents say show them sexually abusing an 18-year-old Haitian man.
Protesters have since clashed with police in the Haitian capital and other cities in recent weeks demanding the troops' exit. Factions eager for the peacekeepers to leave have also tried to capitalize on the frustrations.
As a candidate, Martelly had called for a quick exit of the troops, to be replaced by a reconstituted Haitian army _ replacing the force banned by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the 1990s.
But this week Martelly instead agreed with U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-Moon on a proposal to reduce the force to around its pre-quake levels.