Head of U.N. Peace Force in Haiti Found Dead
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
The top United Nations peacekeeper in Haiti was found shot to death on his hotel room balcony today in Port-au-Prince. He was Brazilian Lieutenant General Urano Bacellar. He commanded the 7,600 peacekeepers deployed to the Caribbean nation after the overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide nearly two years ago. Reporter Amelia Shaw joins us now from Port-au-Prince.
AMELIA SHAW reporting:
ELLIOTT: Brazil's state news agency says the commander was the victim of a firearm accident. What have you been able to learn about what happened?
SHAW: Well, the facts as we know them so far is that General Bacellar was found dead in his hotel room this morning at 6:30 AM. A Haitian journalist who said he saw him, said that he was sitting on the terrace in a T-shirt and shorts with a gunshot wound to the neck. Now local press is speculating that this is a suicide, but the UN says that they're still investigating the circumstances surrounding his death and the Haitian police chief has said that they have found nothing yet to point to foul play. But overall this has been a major blow.
ELLIOTT: Talk to us about that, about the timing of his death. Elections were to be held tomorrow. They were postponed for a fourth time because of the escalating violence there. What's the political climate?
SHAW: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, former president, was forced into exile in February 2004, and since then, the interim government has been struggling to get the country back on its feet particularly with security issues. Kidnappings are rampant right now and it's become a multimillion-dollar business where as many as 10 people are being taken a day. And in the midst of this, the country is struggling to prepare for elections to elect a new government. They keep saying that they're just not logistically prepared.
ELLIOTT: UN peacekeepers have been under pressure there recently from Haiti's interim government and from business leaders. What is their concern?
SHAW: The general population is saying that the UN has basically failed to do its job which is to provide security. And, you know, just recently last week major business leaders called for a general strike in Port-au-Prince on Monday to protest this very thing. They're saying, `How can it be that nearly nine dozen troops are on the ground and they cannot provide security in the city, particularly in the slum of Cite Soleil where most of the violence is happening?'
ELLIOTT: Do you have any sense of how the UN commander's death will affect the political situation in Haiti?
SHAW: Well, I think to people in Haiti this situation does not make the UN look good. I mean, there's been increasing criticism about the UN and it looks like the top commander committed suicide.
ELLIOTT: Of course, we don't know that he committed suicide.
SHAW: No, this has not been confirmed, but this is what the local press is saying very clearly on the airwaves. And so to people here, it's going to seem like some sort of weakness has been exposed. So in one sense, you know, this tragic and unexpected event may, in fact, sort of whip the UN into shape, and we may start seeing more soldiers on the streets and the security situation may improve and elections may, in fact, take place. Or it may have the opposite effect and the country could really go downhill, but at this time, it's still too early to say.
ELLIOTT: Reporter Amelia Shaw in Port-au-Prince, thank you.
SHAW: Thank you.