Uruguay to apologize over alleged rape by U.N. peacekeepers

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 06, 2011 8:39 PM
Uruguay to apologize over alleged rape by U.N. peacekeepers

By Malena Castaldi

MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) - Uruguay will apologize to Haiti and compensate an 18-year-old Haitian man allegedly raped by Uruguayan U.N. troops in the poor Caribbean state, the Uruguayan defense minister said on Tuesday.

Public outrage in the earthquake-ravaged nation has simmered over a video shot by a cellphone camera and circulating on the Internet that shows laughing Uruguayan marines pinning the young Haitian face down on a mattress and apparently assaulting him sexually.

"Our biggest concern is to apologize to Haiti's government as soon as possible and to compensate the victim," Defense Minister Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro told reporters after meeting with lawmakers on Tuesday.

"We want to be thorough with the investigations and apply the harshest of sanctions," Fernandez Huidobro said.

The alleged victim, Johnny Jean, and his mother, Rose Marie Jean, told Haitian radio stations he had been raped by Uruguayan marines and provided testimony to a judge in the southern town of Port-Salut, where the incident allegedly took place on July 28.

Haitian President Michel Martelly has said the perpetrators of what he called "a collective rape carried out against a young Haitian" would not go unpunished.

Haitian authorities, the U.N. Mission in Haiti and Uruguay's Defense Ministry launched an investigation into the video. The four troops suspected of being involved have been detained and Uruguay's Navy has replaced the head of its naval contingent with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

In a preliminary report, the U.N. ruled out that Jean was raped but said blue-helmet peacekeepers broke rules when they allowed a civilian to enter a military camp.

U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti have faced public anger before, especially over allegations that Nepalese U.N. troops brought a deadly cholera epidemic to the country after their camp latrines contaminated a local river. This triggered riots last year against the 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping contingent.

The current U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, was established by the U.N. Security Council in 2004 and has been helping Haiti's short-staffed and ill-equipped police to maintain security in the volatile Caribbean state, especially during elections plagued by fraud and violence.

Defense and foreign ministers from nations that make up MINUSTAH are scheduled to meet in Montevideo on Thursday to discuss a gradual troop pullback from Haiti.

(Writing by Luis Andres Henao; editing by Anthony Boadle)