Originally: Lula takes Brazil team to kick off Haiti peace plan

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president, will personally take the country’s football team to Haiti to help disarm thousands of rebels as part of the country’s largest ever peacekeeping mission.

The rebels are to hand in their weapons as an entrance fee to see Brazil’s football stars in a friendly match against Haiti, tentatively scheduled for August 18. “It is a symbol, a gesture to show we want the world to live in peace not war,” Mr Lula da Silva said on Friday. He is expected to attend the presidential inauguration of Leonel Fernandez in the neighbouring Dominican Republic on August 16.

Last month Brazil took over the command of a United Nations peacekeeping force on the Caribbean island, where an armed rebellion in February led Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s former president, to flee into exile.

Brazil hopes its football diplomacy will showcase its ambitions for a larger role in the international community and buttress its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. Haitians have welcomed the idea. “All of the [armed] gangs will come to the game. Many of them will freely hand in their guns just to see Ronaldo, Cafú or Kaká [the team’s top stars],” Gérard Latortue, Haiti’s prime minister, said in May when the idea was first suggested.

Most Haitians are avid fans of Brazilian football. The country had a two-day holiday to celebrate Brazil’s victory in the 2002 World Cup.

“They are fanatic supporters of the Brazil team. You need to see it to believe it,” General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira, commander of the UN forces in Haiti, told the FT.

Gen Heleno expects demand for entry to be so strong that his biggest worry will be crowd control. “We figure this game could draw 1m people, the stadium fits 15,000 at best.” Currently UN troops in Haiti total only 2,200, far short of the 5,000 expected by end of August.

The exchange of arms for tickets is to take place a week in advance to avoid the possibility of armed clashes, said Ricardo Teixeira, the head of the Brazilian football federation.