|Former Haitian soldiers march during a May 18, 2012, protest near the UN peacekeeping post in the Carrefour neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. The soldiers demanded the return of the Haitian army. (THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP)
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - Brazil and Ecuador have agreed to help Haiti set up a new army that will eventually replace the U.N. peacekeeping force that has protected the impoverished Caribbean nation on and off since 1994, officials say.
Haiti’s President Michel Martelly has been pushing the idea of reconstituting the army for almost a year, saying Haitians would prefer to have their country protected by its own troops rather than United Nations soldiers deployed in Haiti.
Brazil’s Defense Ministry confirmed it was prepared to help Haiti in everything it needs to restore its army, including military training and engineering. Ecuador has also pledged its support, a defense ministry official said.
“Brazil will give all its know-how to help Haiti rebuild its army,” a defense ministry spokesperson told Reuters.
Brazil, which heads the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti, will send a military team to Haiti in the next two to three weeks to assess the situation, the spokesperson said.
Martelly personally requested Brazil’s support during a visit by President Dilma Rousseff to Haiti earlier this year, officials said. An agreement was made in Brasilia last week during a meeting of Haiti and Brazil’s defense ministers.
U.S. and U.N. officials are concerned that restoring the army could undermine international efforts to train and equip a new civilian police force, a key goal of the U.N. mission in Haiti. Critics also point to the Haitian Army’s appalling human rights record, including a bloody coup in 1991.
International aid donors and human rights activists also say they fear the return of the institution could be divisive and divert resources from more pressing challenges of rebuilding after a 2010 earthquake killed more than 200,000 people.
The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth Merten, said recently that Washington had no plans to help fund the army but would not interfere with Haiti’s rights to set it up.
Martelly, acknowledged that some countries have been reluctant to contribute but maintained that a military force was necessary to replace U.N. troops when they leave.
“What we want to create is a force that will help with development, natural disasters, protecting our borders and supporting in security issues when the police are overwhelmed,” Martelly told Reuters.
“We are talking to other partners that had concerns, particularly because of past practices of the Haitian military that were involved in human rights abuses and coups,” he added.
Martelly said the current U.N. stabilization mission can be considered a success only when it departs the island, leaving behind a peaceful and stable environment.
Haiti’s Defense Minister Rodolphe Joazile said Haiti’s plan did not signify any sidelining of international efforts to reinforce its civilian police.
“President Martelly’s plan is clear. It focuses on the reinforcement of the police, the setting up of the new force and a progressive and orderly withdrawal of U.N. troops,” he said.
Due to financial constraints the army would be relaunched with only about 1,500 troops, Joazile said.
Haiti was not ready to announce a cost for the new force or a timetable for its launch, because the support of other possible partners was being evaluated, he said.
Joazile, who accompanied Martelly during an official trip to Ecuador earlier this month, said Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, committed to providing support for the military plan.
“He said it very clearly to President Martelly during his last visit to Ecuador,” Joazile told Reuters. (Additional reporting by Hugo Bachega in Brasilia and Eduardo Garcia in Quito; Editing by David Adams, Tom Brown and Lisa Shumaker) REUTERS