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Haiti's Martelly hails UN's quick actions against alleged rapers

(Xinhua)

13:25, September 15, 2011

SANTO DOMINGO, Sept. 14 (Xinhua) -- Haitian President Michel Martelly welcomed the quick actions taken by the UN mission leadership against five UN peace-keepers who were accused of raping a young Haitian man, local media reported Wednesday.

Martelly, speaking in response to public outrage over a report that five Uruguayan soldiers belonging to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (Minustah) raped an 18-year-old Haitian man on July 28, also defended the presence of the UN in Haiti.

But the president reaffirmed his election promise that he wants to work toward initiating a gradual withdrawal of the massive deployment of Minustah from Haiti over the next three years, according to reports reached here.

"It is not necessary to corner Minustah," said Martelly during a meeting on Monday to discuss future mandates for Minustah with Garry Conill, prime minister-designate, and Nigel Fisher, the UN mission's No. 2 leader, the Haiti Press Network reported.

"The commander of the Uruguayan battalion has been relieved of his duties, and the soldiers behind the attack have been placed in isolation" in Haiti's capital of Port-of-Prince, Martelly said, adding all actions showed Minustah works.

While the incident should be condemned it would not be correct to link such a single act of violence with the work carried out by the UN peace-keeping mission at large across Haiti, he said.

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica apologized last week to the Haitian president over the case, and Uruguayan authorities classified the assault as a case of "violence and bad behavior" rather than a rape.

A group of students from the State University of Haiti announced Tuesday a march to demand the departure of Minustah and compensation for damages to the victim, and said they had submitted a petition to the parliament calling on lawmakers to act constitutionally against renewing the mandate of UN peacekeeping forces here.

"Minustah has already started working on bringing the staff back to the numbers deployed before the earthquake and we are waiting for the ratification of the prime minister in order to start work on creating a new Haitian defense force," Martelly said.

However, Minustah said Tuesday that gradual pullback of UN troops from Haiti responded to a previously established plan rather than the rape case.

The retirement plan was independent of the Uruguayan contingent, and "it was a coincidence in time (with the rape scandal)," said Mariano Fernandez, a Chilean diplomat.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week said Haiti "has made significant progress since the earthquake" and recommended reducing the number of military forces in Minustah to 1,600 from the current number of 8,728.

Minustah first started operating in Haiti in 2004 in line with a UN Security Council resolution with a goal to demobilize local militias in the politically instable country. But since the devastating earthquake in January 2010, the UN mission has played a leading role in reconstruction efforts.

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