Gang attacks kill at least 12 in upscale neighbourhoods of Haitian capital

Gangs attacked two upscale neighbourhoods in Haiti’s capital early Monday in a rampage that left at least a dozen people dead in surrounding areas.

Gunmen looted homes in the communities of Laboule and Thomassin before sunrise, forcing residents to flee as some called radio stations pleading for police. The neighbourhoods had remained largely peaceful despite a surge in violent gang attacks across Port-au-Prince that began on Feb. 29.

An Associated Press photographer saw the bodies of at least 12 men strewn on the streets of Pétion-Ville, located just below the mountainous communities of Laboule and Thomassin.

Crowds began gathering around the victims. One was lying face up on the street surrounded by a scattered deck of cards and another was found face down inside a pickup truck known as a “tap-tap” that operates as a taxi. A woman at one of the scenes collapsed and had to be held by others after learning that a relative of hers was killed.

“Abuse! This is abuse!” cried out one Haitian man, who did not want to be identified, as he raised his arms and stood near one of the victims. “People of Haiti! Wake up!” An ambulance arrived shortly afterward and made its way through Pétion-Ville, collecting the victims.

A large crowd of pedestrians and people on scooters gather around a gas station.
People gather at a crime scene with several bodies of people who were shot dead earlier in the morning in Port-au-Prince on Monday. (Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters)

“We woke up this morning to find bodies in the street in our community of Pétion-Ville,” said Douce Titi, who works at the mayor’s office. “Ours is not that kind of community. We will start working to remove those bodies before the children start walking by to go to school and the vendors start to arrive.”

It was too late for some, though. A relative of one of the victims hugged a young boy close to his chest, with his head turned away from the scene.

The most recent attacks raised concerns that gang violence would not cease, despite Prime Minister Ariel Henry announcing nearly a week ago that he would resign once a transitional presidential council is created, a move that gangs had been demanding.

Gangs have long opposed Henry, saying he was never elected by the people, as they blame him for deepening poverty, but critics of the gangs accuse them of trying to seize power for themselves or for unidentified Haitian politicians.

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Also on Monday, Haiti’s power company announced that four substations in the capital and elsewhere “were destroyed and rendered completely dysfunctional.” As a result, swaths of Port-au-Prince were without power, including the Cité Soleil slum, the Croix-des-Bouquets community and a hospital.

The company said criminals also seized important documents, cables, inverters, batteries and other items.

As gang violence continues unabated, Caribbean leaders have been helping with the creation of a transitional council. It was originally supposed to have seven members with voting powers. But one political party in Haiti rejected the seat they were offered, and another is still squabbling over who should be nominated.

Meanwhile, the deployment of a UN-backed Kenyan police force to fight gangs in Haiti has been delayed, with the East African country saying it would wait until the transitional council is established.

In a bid to curb the relentless violence, Haiti’s government announced Sunday that it was extending a nighttime curfew through March 20.

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