Latin America & Caribbean

Haiti's president launches plans to restore army

People wishing to volunteer for the armed forces attend a training session
Image caption People are already indicating their readiness to join a possible new force

Haitian President Michel Martelly says he is setting up a commission to study plans for a new security force, 16 years after the military was abolished.

Mr Martelly said the panel would look at the aims of the new force and ways of replacing UN peacekeepers who have been deployed since 2004.

International donors have argued that Haiti's focus should remain on rebuilding after the 2010 quake.

The Haitian army was long associated with rights abuses and coups.

Mr Martelly had been widely expected to announce the creation of a military force but his announcement appeared to signal a change in that plan.

Speaking at a ceremony to mark Armed Forces Day, the president said a civilian commission would examine the restoration of the army.

"The commission will have 40 days to prepare a plan to rehabilitate the army which should be presented by 1 January," Mr Martelly said.

"From that moment on we can start to think about the withdrawal of UN troops."

Police training

The army was abolished in 1995 by then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been overthrown in 1991 and returned to power three years later.

However, political turmoil continued in the ensuing years and since 2004, the UN's stabilisation mission, Minustah, has operated in the country.

Major donors, including the US and Canada, have said Haiti has the right to have its own army. But they point to what they see as more pressing issues for the nation.

Image caption Much rebuilding work remains to be done in Haiti

"Canada fears that creating a second security force will significantly reduce the resources available for Haiti's other important priorities," John Babcock, Canadian Foreign Affairs spokesman told AP.

These include rehousing those left homeless by the January 2010 quake; dealing with a cholera epidemic and re-training the national police force.

Mr Martelly campaigned on a promise to restore the army and has tapped into anger directed against Minustah forces, which some Haitians see as foreign occupiers.

"It does seem Martelly has sought to channel anti-Minustah sentiment to bolster support for the reactivation of the armed forces," Mark Weisbrot from the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research told Reuters.

"The risk is that with this move, Haiti's bitter, longstanding divisions, which are never far from the surface, could come back with a vengeance."

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