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20 dead, thousands flee their homes as gangs fight in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Criminal violence in Haiti has escalated this week. with fighting between gangs in part of the capital driving thousands from their homes and killing at least 20 people, including children.

Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency said fighting began Sunday in four neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, north of the international airport. At least a dozen homes were burned down and many of those who fled first took refuge in the courtyard of the local mayor’s office.

The eruption comes amid a spike in violence and kidnappings as gangs grow more powerful and seek to control more territory in the power vacuum following the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

The situation has angered and frustrated Haitians, who are demanding action from Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s administration, which is receiving international aid to bolster an underfunded and understaffed police force.

A family of eight, including six children, are among those killed since Sunday, authorities said Wednesday. Area schools and businesses remain closed as thousands of families with children camp out in a park near the local mayor’s office.

“They need water, food, supplies,” said Jean Raymond Dorcely, who heads a small grassroots community organization. “They must have left with nothing in their hands.”

He said the neighborhood is generally quiet and his child often plays in the park now converted into a makeshift outdoor shelter.

“I see children crying because they are hungry and the families have nothing to provide for them,” he said, adding that the needs were increasing as the fighting continued. “I don’t know how it’s going to be tomorrow.”

Authorities said in addition to the dead, two dozen people were injured in the violence and a bullet hit an empty United Nations Humanitarian Air Service helicopter parked near the airport.

“The conflict is likely to intensify in the coming days, leading to new victims and new population migrations,” the Civil Protection Agency said.

Officials have warned that major roads leading to the northern region of Haiti could be cut off as a result of the fighting.

Gang violence in the community of Martissant, in southern Port-au-Prince, has already cut off access to the southern region of the country, which is trying to recover from last year’s deadly earthquake.

The Martissant violence last year displaced thousands of families who spent months in overcrowded and unsanitary public shelters in and around Port-au-Prince. It was not immediately clear where the newly displaced families would be staying.

The Civil Protection Agency blamed this week’s violence on a fight between the Chen Mechan gang and the rival 400 Mawozo gang. who was implicated in the kidnapping of 17 American missionaries last year.

The Citizen Protection Office, akin to an ombudsman, issued a statement condemning the violence. He criticized political leaders, saying their inaction and silence brought “a form of cynicism or disregard for human rights, especially the right to life and security”.

The office also questioned whether the area known as Plaine du Cul de Sac was becoming another Martissant and called on the authorities to fulfill their responsibility to protect citizens.

Associated Press writer Dánica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.



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