PORT-AU-PRINCE- Several neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, were engulfed in violence this week as rival gangs battled for control.
According to police, at least 20 people have been killed in gang violence, including a family of eight with children.
The police said that since fighting between gangs first flared up on Sunday, another two-dozen people had been injured.
While a political vacuum persists, gangs have intensified their fight for control of areas beyond their poorer neighborhoods.
Following the assassination of former president Jovenel Moise in July last year, the country entered a state of crisis.
HOMES BURNED, THOUSANDS DISPLACED
Reports indicated that fighting broke out in northern neighborhoods of the capital last Tuesday, burning down at least a dozen homes and forcing thousands to flee their homes.
A park near the local mayor’s office has been a temporary shelter for most of the families, mostly with children. In the area, businesses and schools remain closed.
An organizer of a grassroots organization, Jean Raymond Dorcely, told AP about the poor conditions of families – he could see children crying but families had nothing to offer them.
“They had to leave with nothing in their hands,” Dorcely said.
Authorities said a round fired during the fighting also hit an empty helicopter belonging to the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service near the airport.
FIGHTING BLAMED ON TWO RIVAL GANGS
According to the Haitian civil protection agency, the blame lies with two principal rivals – the Chen Mechan and the 400 Mawozo.
In the area around the capital, there is a notorious armed bandit gang known as the 400 Mawozo, which is known for kidnappings and thefts.
In October 2021, they kidnapped 17 members of a US missionary group – 16 US citizens and one Canadian national – who visited an orphanage in the country.
After negotiations between Haitian authorities and the FBI, all hostages were freed by December.
CIVIC GROUPS CONDEMN VIOLENCE, WARN OF ESCALATION
In a statement on Thursday, Haiti’s Citizen Protection Office condemned the violence and criticized political leaders for their inaction.
The report noted that the leaders’ silence has brought a “form of cynicism or contempt for human rights, particularly the right to life and security.”
Fighting has mainly taken place along the only road connecting Port-au-Prince with the Dominican Republic and leading to the north of the country.
If fighting intensifies, authorities have warned that access to the northern part of the country may be lost.
In the southern region of Port-au-Prince, gang violence in the Martissant community has already cut off access to the southern region.
According to the Haitian civil protection agency, violence could escalate in the coming days, leading to more deaths and displacements.