Haiti gangs launch airport siege to stop prime minister returning from Kenya

Haitian soldiers patrol outside the Toussaint Louverture International Airport
Haitian soldiers patrol outside the Toussaint Louverture International Airport - Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters
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Armed gangs tried to storm Haiti’s main airport on Monday as the bloodshed and chaos in the stricken Caribbean nation spiralled out of control.

Criminals cut a hole through the fence of the Toussaint Louverture International Airport before being forced back by gunfire from security forces.

The airport was closed when the attack occurred but journalists from the Associated Press saw an armoured truck shooting at gangs from the tarmac to keep them back.

Soldiers were deployed to the airport earlier this week after gangs began a violent campaign to seize state institutions on Thursday. Three domestic aircraft were struck when gangs opened fire at the airport last week.

On Sunday, about 3,600 prisoners were broken out of the country’s largest prison.

The gangs, led by warlord and former policeman Jeremy “Barbecue” Chérizier, have been targeting government facilities, including police stations, as they seek to take total control of the country of 11 million.

They have been terrorising the population for years, robbing, extorting and also frequently raping ordinary Haitians, destroying any possibility of normalcy or prosperity for citizens.

Now they want to stop Ariel Henry, the prime minister, returning from Kenya. He has been negotiating a deal for more than 1,000 Kenyan police officers to deploy to Haiti as part of a United Nations-sponsored peacekeeping force.

Mr Henry, who cancelled elections scheduled for February because of the security breakdown, is unpopular among many Haitians for failing to tackle the gang violence.

US airlines suspended all flights to Haiti on Monday, while Luis Abinader, president of the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, said his country was speeding up the construction of a fence and implementing “extreme security” measures along the 150-mile border.

Haitian security forces
Haitian security forces retained the airport following a gunfight - Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters
Haiti airport
Soldier at the airport. US airlines suspended all flights to Haiti on Monday - Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters

Mr Abinader also ruled out accepting Haitian refugees because of concerns that the Dominican Republic, a popular tourist destination, could be overwhelmed.

About 15,000 people are believed to have been displaced in the past five days by the fierce fighting in and around the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

The UN Security Council approved a peacekeeping mission to Haiti in October 2023. But the initiative has been plagued by reluctance from some nations, especially the United States and in Europe, to get involved. So far, just $11 million (£8.6 million) has been raised for the force, which is expected to comprise troops from Caribbean and African states.

That is partly down to political sensibilities and the risk of being perceived as “colonial” interlopers in a majority black nation founded by a slave rebellion in the 19th century.

A Haitian soldier patrols outside the Toussaint Louverture International Airport
An arms embargo launched by Washington appears to have backfired - Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters

But the international community also has a troubled history of intervention in Haiti, with previous UN peacekeeping missions accused of sexual violence and, separately, sparking a cholera outbreak.

Meanwhile, an arms embargo launched by the US, following a 1991 military coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a priest who was Haiti’s first democratically elected president, appears to have backfired, with the gangs now frequently outgunning the police force and even the military.

Luis Almagro, general secretary of the Organisation of American States, was critical of the lack of a decisive international response to the latest bloodletting.

“It’s irresponsible that necessary measures and actions continue to be delayed,” he warned on Monday.

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