Mahinda to continue with Haiti military mission
By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government is to deploy fresh troops in Haiti under UN flag. Army headquarters said that a battalion of Gemunu Watch troops would be despatched shortly to replace the Sinha Regiment troops deployed in the lawless Caribbean island.

A spokesman said that the first contingent comprising 376 officers and men would be leaving tomorrow (24). The second contingent comprises 375 officers and men. It would leave on December 9. The Gemunu contingent would be commanded by Colonel J.C.T. Pakshaweera. Lt. Colonel K.P.A.Jayasekara would be his deputy.

The forthcoming deployment is the first since the November 17 presidential elections brought Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse to power. The government is to continue with the agreement with the UN. Authoritative sources speculated on the possibility of the government committing additional troops. Rajapakse is expected to retain the Defence portfolio.

The JVP continues to criticise the army’s UN role. The Marxist party called for the immediate withdrawal of troops after attacks claimed the lives of two peace keepers and wounded several.

Sri Lankan forces joined a Brazilian-led UN peace keeping mission during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as the Prime Minister. The Sri Lanka Light Infantry served the UN mission first and was replaced by the Sinha Regiment. The Gemunu troops would be taking over from Sinha troops.

Sri Lanka deployed an additional contingent of about 200 army-navy-air force personnel several months ago.

Recently UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged the US to consider deploying troops to support a U.N. peacekeeping mission beset by mounting armed challenges to its authority.

Sri Lankan troops are among 6,700 Brazilian, Chilean, Argentine and other peacekeeping forces serving in Haiti. Twelve countries contribute troops to the mission.

The Bush administration sent U.S. troops into Haiti in March 2004 to halt an upsurge of violence that culminated in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s flight from Haiti. A Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeeping force replaced the United States as the country’s chief guarantor of security.

Sri Lankan troops returning from Haiti said that the problem was that the U.N. peacekeeping forces were frequently obliged to play a policing role against the violent armed gangs who operate among the thousands of innocent people crowded into the slums and narrow alleyways of Port-au-Prince and other Haitian cities.

The thin line between peacekeeping and indiscriminate repression can become dangerously blurred in the Port-au-Prince neighbourhoods of Bel-Air, Cit`E9 Soleil and Carrefour or the northern city of Gonaives, the most turbulent zones in the country, they said.

In Haiti, there are no precisely defined forces with whom it would be possible to negotiate, unlike other countries beset by internal conflicts, veterans of other U.N. peacekeeping missions explained.


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