Originally: U.N. peacekeeping force at 40 percent strength and facing deteriorating security, U.N. diplomats and officials say

U.N. peacekeeping force at 40 percent strength and facing deteriorating security, U.N. diplomats and officials say

UNITED NATIONS_The U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti has just over 40 percent of its troops and is facing a deteriorating security situation with armed groups still controlling parts of the country, U.N. diplomats and officials said Thursday.

But Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Hedi Annabi told a closed Security Council meeting that despite security challenges, a fragile political situation and logistical difficulties, the peacekeepers have made an encouraging start, U.N. diplomats said.

He said about 2,700 peacekeepers are in Haiti and the United Nations hopes to more than double the number in the next month or so, diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

That would bring it closer to the 6,700-strong force authorized by the council to replace a 3,600-strong U.S.-led multinational force sent to Haiti to restore order after a three-week rebellion culminated in the ouster of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 29.

The U.N. force is concentrated in three locations “but they do not control the whole area yet,” said Germany’s deputy U.N. ambassador Wolfgang Trautwein. “For example, the ports and airports are still very much under control of the militias.”

Only 240 of the 1,622 civilian police authorized by the council have arrived and the United Nations is working on getting more, especially from French-speaking countries, Annabi said, according to diplomats.

The U.N. force is led by Brazil, which has nearly 1,200 troops, mainly in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Brazil’s U.N. Ambassador Ronaldo Mota Sardenberg said the force is expecting a battalion of French-speaking Africans, another battalion from Spain and Morocco, and further troops from Sri Lanka and Nepal.

But he said troop pledges still fall short of the 6,700 total.

Chile has about 450 troops in the capital and in Cap Hatien and Fort Liberte in the north, which Chile’s U.N. Ambassador Heraldo Munoz said is “the most dangerous area.” It has added 150 military engineers to help repair roads and carry out other projects to help spur the economy, he said.

“Even though there’s relative peace and calm, there are still problems with criminality,” Munoz said.

“We see that there are still groups with weapons, and the government needs to clear a policy of disarmament that includes the demobilization and solution to the problem of pensions of the former members of the army,” he said. “That is an issue that hasn’t been tackled yet.”

Sardenberg said Brazil had expected the U.S.-led force to start the process of disarming armed gangs but it didn’t so the U.N. force will have to tackle the problem. But it needs more troops to start the process, he said.

The other major challenge for the U.N. mission is to help organize local, parliamentary and presidential elections next year, Sardenberg said.

“This process is just beginning and it must be accelerated,” he said.