Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Gassant steps up once more

With Police Nationale d’Haïti (PNH) chief Mario Andrésol, Secretary of State for Public Security Luc-Eucher Joseph and Senator from the Artibonite Department Youri Latortue (ahem) looking on, returned-son -of-Haiti Claudy Gassant was sworn in on Monday as the new Haitian government commissaire for Port-au-Prince, and then gave the Haitian police a dynamite charge to reclaim the streets from gangs pledging allegiance to ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

"From now on, the police force must systematically occupy (i.e. control) the streets," Radio Kiskeya reported Gassant as having said.

The announcement comes the same day that Amaral Duclona, the gang leader who took over control of the Soliel 19 section of the vast Cite Soleil slum that was at one time under the command of my sadly departed friend James "Billy" Petit-Frere and his half-brother, Winston "Tupac" Jean-Bart (both killed in Haiti while their erstwhile patron Mr. Aristide was savoring his gilded exile in South Africa) stated that he would defy Préval's order that the gangs disarm until, Duclona said, U.N. peacekeepers stop conducting raids there. A thorny issue for Préval, to be sure. Perhaps the South African government of President Thabo Mbeki, currently hosting Mr. Aristide there and providing him with "accommodation, transport, office support staff and security" at a price that is in "line with the costs of a South African cabinet minister," might think of giving some of that money instead towards a job development program in poor neighborhoods in Haiti's capital such as Cite Soleil and Pele, or perhaps to aid the widows of the political militants, such as James and Tupac, who put themselves on the line for a political leader who so cavalierly abandoned them. No, doubtless that would make too much sense and be too decent.

Half a world away from the slums of Port-au-Prince, other politicians have been having a go at the current Lebanon crisis, with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi saying that his country is willing to lead the UN force in war-torn Lebanon, offering up 3,000 troops but adding that caveat that a new UN Security Council resolution is needed to clearly define any peacekeeping role. Italy's decision to step up to the plate comes after France's paltry promise of a few hundred peacekeepers, which prompted The New York Times to write that ""After insisting for years that they be treated like a superpower, the French are behaving as if they have no responsibility for helping dig out of the Lebanon mess." Egyptian blogger Big Pharaoh bemoans the cost of the month-long war, writing that only a year ago, "Lebanon, free from Israel's occupation of South Lebanon, decided to get rid of the last remaining occupation (Syria's) and then shift the gear to derive honor from an independent democratic prosperous Lebanon. (Former Lebanese Prime Minister) Rafik Hariri was the one shifting the stiff gear towards that direction. Too bad Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were pulling from the other direction."

For his part, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth weighs in with a damming Op-Ed in The Jerusalem Post where he asks unequivocally that "Why did so many Lebanese civilians lost their lives to Israeli bombing? The government line is that the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) was doing the best it could, but these deaths were the result of Hizbullah hiding its rockets and fighters among civilians. But that assertion doesn't stand up to the facts.”

Roth's conclusion?

"Human Rights Watch investigated some two dozen bombing incidents in Lebanon involving a third of the civilians who by then had been killed. In none of those cases was Hizbullah anywhere around at the time of the attack. Protecting Israelis from Hizbullah's deadly rockets is vital, but it does not justify indifference to the taking of civilian lives on the other side of the border."

This is a conclusion that mirrors that of Lebanese-American journalist Anthony Shadid, who reported from the scene in Lebanon for The Washington Post, and authored the excellent book, Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War.

Braces yourself folks, this is far from over.

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