April 15, 2004

WASHINGTON ? The international peacekeeping force in Haiti could be there a year or longer until a local police force can be trained to take over, a top U.S. official said Wednesday.

A U.N.-sanctioned force of 3,500 moved into Haiti to restore order after a violent uprising ended the presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 29.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega said the exact duration of the force’s duty would be set by the U.N. Security Council and could be renewed.

“But I think there’s a recognition that we need to maintain a presence for a period of time until the Haitian National Police is stood up,” he told the American Enterprise Institute think tank.

“And that process will take at least, I would think, nine to 12 months, to get people identified” to serve as police, he said.

The United States, France, Canada and Chile have contributed to the peacekeeping force, led by the Marines. Noriega said Aristide ruined the old police force by filling its ranks with gang members who supported his government.

Since the revolt broke out in early February, the Haitian National Police has dwindled from about 5,000 to around 2,000 and lacks proper leadership, according to the Organization of American States.

The multinational force will oversee a process of “shadowing” and “mentoring” the new police force as it is created, Noriega said.

The Haitian government said it had a plan to incorporate armed rebels into the police force, raising concerns that human rights violators could end up in uniform.

Noriega said members of Haitian security forces should be subject to a “very close vetting” for past criminality.

“Participating in a rebel group, for example, would not necessarily disqualify a person, but it wouldn’t automatically move him into the security force,” he said. “That’s not an acceptable formula.”

The U.S. and the financial community would not support “financially or technically that kind of a police force,” he said.