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UN Sees Mounting Violence In Haiti Targeting Peacekeepers

A child suffering from cholera receives treatment at St. Catherine hospital in the slum of Cite-Soleil in Port-au-Prince in mid-November.
UN officials trying to halt the spread of a cholera epidemic in Haiti say their efforts are being sabotaged by increasing civil unrest.

The head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, Edmond Mullet, says the delivery of help is being hampered by demonstrators who are making the foreign peacekeepers a target for popular anger over the epidemic and the continuing misery from January's devastating earthquake.

The United Nations is now calling for demonstrators to stop blocking roads, bridges, and airports so that humanitarian assistance can reach the thousands of people affected by the cholera epidemic, which has killed at least 1,186 people.

"A lot of humanitarian equipment and doctors that needed to arrive in Cap Haitian to treat people for cholera were not able to make their way because the airport was closed, because the roads were blocked," Vincenzo Pugliese, spokesman for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, told Reuters on November 19. "People who had [symptoms] -- probably patients who could have been treated at the treatment centers -- did not make their way to the hospital because of this, so this is actually creating an opposite effect of what [protesters] want. They're demonstrating against cholera but they're favoring the conditions for cholera to spread even more."

Earlier this week, protesters in some of the overcrowded camps built for earthquake survivors threw stones at peacekeepers, who responded by firing tear gas in running clashes that lasted several hours.

Political Backdrop

The unrest comes ahead of Haiti's national election on November 28 to choose a new president. Some parties have sought to rally popular support by blaming the international community for the country's continuing misery from the earthquake and now for the outbreak of disease.

Rumors have been spreading for weeks that the cholera epidemic began because septic tanks at a base for Nepalese UN peacekeepers in central Haiti leaked into a major river, contaminating it.

"These guys are coming here and they rape our women, kill our people, and now bring us the disease," Haitian protester Joseph Jacquelin charged of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH, in a Reuters interview. "We are tired of them and they must go. Down with MINUSTAH!"

The UN said it tested some of the Nepalese peacekeepers and found no trace of cholera. Meanwhile, health officials said it is impossible to know and the focus must be on containing the epidemic and not divining its source.

The targeting of the foreign peacekeepers for popular anger over the cholera epidemic is particularly worrisome as UN peacekeepers are scheduled to oversee the election later this month.

By discrediting them ahead of time as enemies of the Haitian people, some parties may be preparing the ground for rejecting the election results as unfair.

If so, that could set the stage for still more trouble for Haiti in the coming months as political unrest compounds the country’s already long list of problems.

More than 19,600 Haitians have been infected by cholera, a diarrhea-causing illness, since the outbreak began last month.

The January earthquake killed some 250,000 people and razed the capital, Port au Prince.

compiled from agency reports