By PAISLEY DODDS, Associated Press Writer
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – U.N. troops are coming back to Haiti, but after a decade of failed missions many in the traumatized nation wonder whether the peacekeepers ? cobbled together from countries ranging from Argentina to Zimbabwe ? are up to the daunting task.
Although the official handover is Tuesday, only 42 of some 8,000 troops and police have arrived.
Brightly colored flags of 30 participating nations dot empty barracks at the airport. And only samples of the blue U.N. headgear have arrived.
Floods that killed nearly 1,700 people last week and stranded thousands in remote villages have forced U.S. troops to stay past their June 1 departure date. American and French forces in the four-nation force handing the baton to the United Nations (news – web sites) are the only ones with helicopters to bring aid to otherwise unreachable villages.
Some Canadian, Chilean and French troops, from the 3,600-force that arrived in February when a rebellion ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, will join the U.N. force for up to six months.
“We’ve done an excellent job in working with the multinational task force and we look forward to working with the other nations,” said Canadian Capt. David Devenney.
The U.N. force, to include 6,700 troops and 1,622 civilian police, will be led by 1,200 Brazilian troops, the largest contingent the South American country has sent on a U.N. mission.
But Brazilian Army Gen. Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira recently warned Haitians not to expect miracles. Heleno, the commander of the U.N. force, is to arrive Tuesday with another 150 troops.
The U.N. mission will again try to keep a tentative peace in the divided country and again train an ill-equipped and understaffed police force, as well as work on development projects.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (news – web sites) has asked for a long-term U.N. commitment to transform Haiti ? which has suffered more than 30 coups in 200 years ? into “a functioning democracy.” But only a fraction of the $35 million in requested aid has arrived.
Whether the force will reach full strength is unclear. Brazil, Chile and Argentina have pledged up to 2,500 troops. Other countries, from strife-torn nations such as Croatia, Nepal and Rwanda, have promised smaller numbers.
“I don’t understand what they’re coming to do yet,” said Marie Andre, 31, from the southern village of Fond Verrettes, one of the worst affected towns in the floods. “If they’re supposed to provide security, where are they?”
Some Haitians are hopeful that without Aristide the United Nations will be able to do more.
U.S. troops last intervened in Haiti in 1994 to restore Aristide after a 1991 coup. In 1995, they handed over to U.N. peacekeepers. That mission was supposed to last a year but continued until February 2001, unfolding as the Haitian government held disputed parliamentary and presidential elections which ultimately soured relations with the international community.
Foreign governments demanded a re-count of flawed 2000 legislative elections swept by Aristide’s party. When Aristide refused, they froze tens of millions of aid dollars.
The United States, Haiti’s largest bilateral donor since 1994, held up its $14 million share of the last mission’s $24 million budget, preventing U.N. advisers from deploying until months after the mission began.
The mission was dealt another blow when its transport chief was dragged from his car by a mob and shot and killed. Annan closed the mission, citing a “combination of rampant crime, violent street protests and incidents of violence targeted at the international community.”
Haitian leaders blamed the troops, saying neither the Americans nor U.N. peacekeepers had done enough to disarm factions, particularly the coup-prone army that Aristide disbanded in 1995.
Ex-soldiers are among leaders of several rebel factions that joined forces this year to oust Aristide again. Still armed, some boast that they carry the guns that never were taken from them nearly 10 years ago.
There was no difference this time round. The Americans did little about disarmament.
“Our first mission here is providing security,” Lt. Col. Antonio Carlos Faillace said when the first Brazilian troops arrived Saturday.
But he too was ambivalent about disarmament, saying that would be decided by Gen. Heleno.