PORT-AU-PRINCE, March 31 (AP) — U.N. forces and Haitian police

surrounded a teeming seaside slum Thursday in an offensive aimed at

disarming gangs and restoring order ahead of fall elections. Soldiers fired

into the air to drive off car hijackers who killed at least one man.

  U.N. peacekeepers atop armored vehicles made high-speed sweeps up and

down streets on the outskirts of Cite Soleil, occasionally firing into the

air. But they did not appear to have yet entered the heart of the slum,

which is home to armed gangs believed to threaten the elections.

  Gunfire wounded six people, the Haitian Red Cross said.

  The operation, the first major offensive by U.N. forces around the

capital, comes amid a surge of violence that has killed hundreds since

September, including two U.N. peacekeepers. More than 1,000 Jordanian

troops as well as Chinese and Haitian police were taking part in the raid.

  The 7,400-member U.N. force in Haiti has come under criticism for

inaction in stemming the violence more than a year after an uprising ousted

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In recent weeks, mission leaders have

vowed to get tough with armed groups.

  On Thursday, about 30 gunmen tried to hijack vehicles on a road into

Cite Soleil, a crowded shantytown that borders Port-au-Prince, shooting and

killing at least one truck driver just 100 yards from Jordanian

peacekeepers. The troops drove toward the hijackers after the shooting,

forcing them to flee.

  Looters then descended on the abandoned truck, hauling away cartons of

soda on their heads. Onlookers then mobbed the looters, trying to pull soda

bottles out of the boxes for themselves. U.N. peacekeepers did not


  Later, a young man toting an M-16 fired down the street to give cover

while others drove off with the truck and disappeared down an alley. The

man’s rifle bore a sticker with Aristide’s face.

  Repeated bursts of gunfire rang out from Cite Soleil and Red Cross

workers carried one man out on a stretcher with bullet wounds to his feet.

  “I was just sitting with some friends when all of a sudden there were a

lot of shots and I got hit,” said Wilner Darer, 18, lying beside an armored

vehicle. “There’s a lot of shooting in the community. Everybody is afraid

and nobody is leaving their house.”

  Armed men also fired at a car carrying an American freelance

photographer and her driver. A bullet entered the vehicle but no one was


  Late Wednesday, clashes between rival gangs left several people dead,

including a powerful anti-Aristide gang leader known as “Labaniere,” said

Lt. Col. Elouafi Boulbars, a U.N. military spokesman.

  Separately, unknown assailants shot at a Filipino soldier guarding the

United Nations’ new headquarters in Port-au-Prince early Thursday, Boulbars

said. The soldier escaped injury after shots hit him in his helmet and

protective vest.

  Boulbars said soldiers and police plan to sweep the Cite Soleil area for

illegal guns in an operation that could last days. He said operations in

other communities will begin shortly.

  “This is the first stage. Then we’ll enter the community,” Boulbars


  “We will respond appropriately if our soldiers come under fire,” he

said. “But the structure of this ghetto makes it very difficult to

penetrate because of the risk of collateral damage. That’s our main


  The operation comes as Haiti’s caretaker government and the U.N. force

struggle to contain flashpoints of violence. More than 400 people have been

killed in September in clashes involving police, peacekeepers, pro- and

anti-Aristide gangs, and former soldiers who led the February 2004 revolt.

At least 40 police officers have been killed.

  Earlier this month, U.N. troops fought bands of armed ex-soldiers in two

rural towns that left two peacekeepers dead. Two former soldiers also died.

The U.N. force arrived in June 2004.

  Experts say disarming the gangs in the winding streets of Cite Soleil

will be far more difficult for U.N. peacekeepers than dealing with the

former soldiers — bands of aging, loosely organized men armed with rusty


  Many of the street gangs received money and perhaps weapons under

Aristide and find it easy to disappear into the surrounding alleys and

shanties in the crowded slum.

  The pro-Aristide gangs have their roots in the 1991 coup, when

paramilitary death squads sprayed Aristide’s slum strongholds with gunfire.

Some of today’s Aristide loyalists were orphaned by the killings, which

eased in 1994 when U.S. troops restored Aristide.