Originally: A force for Haiti

The Bush administration faces a June 1 deadline in Haiti that may be as difficult to meet as the June 30 target for turning over power in Iraq.

In less than two months, UN peacekeepers are supposed to be ready to replace the 3,600 soldiers from the United States, France, Canada, and Chile who are maintaining a tenuous peace in Haiti for now, at least in the capital, Port-au-Prince. The Bush administration should be willing to extend its Haiti commitment beyond June 1 if UN officials cannot mobilize a multinational force of 5,000 to 8,000 by then.


Without international peacekeepers, the risk of violence is high. According to members of an assessment mission sent to Haiti by the United Nations, there may be as few as 1,000 Haitian police on the job in a country of 8 million, while the rebel force that forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to flee has not been disarmed.


UN peacekeepers will likely be needed for some years to give Haiti time to rebuild its police force. There was an effort in the 1990s to create a competent, uncorrupted national police force that would have commanded the respect of all Haitians, rich and poor, but the effort failed.


This time the international community must bring to the task more persistence and patience. Haitian officials must do their share, which includes disassociating themselves from members of the rebel force who have been implicated in crimes or massacres. It was not a good sign recently when the interim prime minister, Gerard Latortue, hailed several such rebels as “freedom fighters.”


It would be a mistake for the United States and other nations with troops in Haiti to pull out before a UN contingent capable of assuming these tasks is ready.