Uruguay frees soldiers in Haiti abuse trial

AP News
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Posted: Jan 09, 2012 8:48 PM
Uruguay frees soldiers in Haiti abuse trial

A prosecutor in Uruguay says he may have to shelve an abuse case against six U.N. peacekeepers accused of raping a young Haitian man because authorities can't get the alleged victim to testify. But the man told The Associated Press on Monday that no one has ever asked him to.

"They know where to find me," the 19-year-old man told an AP reporter who reached him by cellphone. "If they take me, I will go."

The former peacekeepers were freed last week pending a military trial on charges of violating rules against fraternizing with civilians inside military bases. A separate investigation into abuse charges is in civilian criminal court, but can only go to trial with the man's cooperation, prosecutor Eduardo Fernandez Dovat said.

Uruguay's vice minister of defense, Jorge Menendez, said last week that authorities had tried repeatedly to obtain the man's testimony, either by bringing him to Uruguay or having him answer questions remotely. They say they haven't heard from him since his lawyer demanded a $5 million settlement, which Uruguayan authorities said wasn't possible.

The six Uruguayan marines were expelled from Haiti in September and jailed at home while military and civilian prosecutors investigated allegations that the man had been raped after his peacekeeper friends invited him inside their base in Port Salut, Haiti.

One of the peacekeepers recorded the rowdy scene on a cellphone, showing the man being pinned down on a mattress as a partially clothed soldier simulated rape. The soldiers initially called it a prank that got out of hand, but it angered many Haitians, and gave ammunition to those who have been demanding a departure by the U.N. mission, known as MINUSTAH.

The alleged victim has moved to Haiti's capital from Port Salut, but he told AP that authorities in Haiti can easily locate him. He said he's perfectly willing to talk, as soon as he's asked.

The AP is not identifying the man by name because of the sexual nature of the charges.

Word of the peacekeepers' release prompted fresh declarations of outrage Monday by human rights activists in Haiti.

"It is hard to think of a stronger rape case" said Mario Joseph, an attorney with the International Lawyers Bureau. "The perpetrators documented it on their cellphone. Yet the U.N. still denied it happened at first. Under public pressure, MINUSTAH promised justice, but did not deliver it."

Dovat, the Uruguayan prosecutor, insisted that from the video itself, it would be impossible to prove the man was sexually penetrated, and that if he doesn't testify, the case will have to be dropped.

The president of Uruguay's Supreme Military Tribunal, Gen. Julio Halty, told the AP on Monday that a military verdict is expected by March or April. If the men are convicted and sentenced to more than their time already served, they will go back behind bars, he said.

Joseph's Port-au-Prince law firm has filed a claim against the United Nations on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims. Multiple studies have linked the 2010 arrival of cholera in Haiti to a U.N. peacekeeping unit from Nepal, where the disease is endemic.

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Associated Press writers Ariel Gonzalez in Montevideo and Trenton Daniel in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report.