Haiti’s most notorious politically motivated gangs said Monday, August 7, they were ready to hand over their weapons to the new government in exchange for political guarantees, heeding President Rene Preval’s call for dialogue to achieve peace.

A gang leader in the slum of Cite Soleil, known as Ti Blanc, said gangs there welcomed Preval’s call for voluntary disarmament through dialogue, but challenged the government to disarm all illegal armed groups wherever they can be found and regardless of their political affiliation.

“We fully agree with President Preval’s approach and we want to disarm, but all the other armed groups should hand over their weapons too,” Ti Blanc, who was said to be talking on behalf of all the other armed groups in Cite Soleil, told local Radio Melodie FM on Monday.

Gangs in Cite Soleil, however, expressed concerned that rival gangs, allegedly linked to the Haitian police and the former interim government, would be allowed to keep their weapons while they were expected to disarm.

“Then they would try to come here and kill the population as they used to do under the interim government,” Ti Blanc said.

“When assailants took up weapons against the constitutional government of president (Jean-Bertrand) Aristide, they called them freedom fighters. But when we take up weapons against a de facto interim government, they call us bandits. We can’t accept this double standard,” he said.

Preval announced last week the start of talks with groups which possess illegal weapons to negotiate an end to gang and political violence in the impoverished Caribbean country. “Several armed groups want to hand over their weapons, but they need guarantees. We have opened dialogue with them to see how they can give up their weapons in a peaceful manner,” Preval said.

Armed group leaders said Preval’s statement was a sign that the government wants to create conditions for a lasting peace. “President Preval wants to save this country and we want to cooperate because we are all Haitians,” Ti Blanc said.

Another gang leader, known as General Tutu, said Preval’s statement was “a good step towards peace.” Preval said using UN’s military force to quell illegal armed groups would cause too many innocent people to be killed in populated areas.

The interim government of former prime minister Gerard Latortue, had barred gangs, allegedly loyal to former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, from entering the UN-run Demobilization, Disarmament and Reinsertion (DDR) programme.

Aristide fled the country in February 2004 in the face of a bloody armed revolt and under intense U.S. and French pressure to quit. He is now living in exile in South Africa.