Haiti's plans to rebuild army meets opposition

AP News
Posted: Sep 28, 2011 10:14 PM
Haiti's plans to rebuild army meets opposition

A plan by Haitian President Michel Martelly to revive the country's disbanded military is running into opposition.

Sen. Moise Jean-Charles of Haiti's dominant political party told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Haiti does not need to create a new army.

He noted Haiti cannot afford to do that on its own, so the financing would have to come from international partners.

"Why would the international community fund an army?" he said. "We don't have anyone we're going to war with."

Jean-Charles is a member of the Unity party, which has a majority in the 30-member Senate and controls 36 seats in the 99-member Chamber of Deputies. The $95 million plan would need approval from Parliament.

Jean-Charles said Haiti should instead focus on improving its police department.

"We need to strengthen the national police and build departments inside it to secure the country," he said.

He commented a day after The Associated Press obtained a draft of the Haitian government's proposal for rebuilding a military dismantled in 1995 after a long history of abuse and coups.

Political observers said Wednesday that the government's resources could be better spent on job programs for youths.

A Martelly adviser did not return requests for comment, and the National Palace has referred all questions to security consultant Reginald Delva, who could not be reached for comment.

The proposal seeks to fulfill Martelly's controversial campaign pledge to revive the army. It calls for recruiting and training 3,500 soldiers in the first three years so the force can eventually replace a U.N. peacekeeping mission.

The document says the force, to be known as the National Council of Defense and Security, would patrol Haiti's porous borders with the Dominican Republic and neighboring islands, bring order in a time of crisis and train young Haitians.

Creating a new armed force is certain to draw criticism from human rights groups that documented abuses committed by the previous Haitian military.

But some Haitians harbor ill feelings toward the U.N. peacekeeping mission that has been in Haiti since 2004, when a violent rebellion of former soldiers toppled then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The U.N. force has been blamed for introducing a cholera outbreak, and several Uruguayan sailors from one of its battalions face accusations of sexually abusing an 18-year-old Haitian man.

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Despite protests calling for the U.N. mission to leave, Martelly is likely to extend its peacekeeping mandate for another year when it comes up for renewal next month.

Sen. Youri Latortue, an opposition politician who helped lead an anti-U.N. protest earlier this month in the coastal city in which the alleged assault happened, said he supported the idea of a new army.

He said the national police department has too few officers to adequately patrol Haiti's border and respond to natural disasters. The police force has 8,500 officers in a country with 10 million people.

Latortue also said the new military would need to be different from what came before.

"We must have a new army but not like before, which was involved in politics, elections," said Latortue, who is president of a Senate commission on security. "It's important to have a professional army."