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U.N. forces struggle to quell violence in Haiti


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Nearly 20 months after the United Nations arrived to stabilize the hemisphere's poorest country and avert a civil war, there is still no cease-fire in this violent city on the sea.

Blasts from tanks and machine guns go on for hours almost every day around Cite Soleil, a steamy slum at the capital's northern edge. No one knows for sure how many civilians have been killed inside.

Last week, two Jordanian soldiers were shot to death and one was seriously wounded in skirmishes with local gangs. It was the third fatal strike against U.N. personnel since December, when relations between the international peacekeeping mission and the local people began to unravel.

The unabated violence has raised demands in capitals from Brasilia, Brazil, to Washington to Ottawa for an explanation as to what has gone wrong with Haiti's transition to democracy. What is clear is that the $584 million-a-year mission has failed to bring peace to Haiti, and the caretaker government has failed to bring elections.

The interim government, appointed with the support of the United States in March 2004 after the downfall of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, postponed elections to Tuesday from Jan. 8, the fourth delay in four months.

Uncertainty remains among the highest-level organizers of the elections about whether a fair vote is possible in the corrupt and polarized political atmosphere.

The interim government blames the international community for the delays, saying that it failed to deliver voter cards and train enough poll workers. The United Nations blames the interim government, accusing its leaders of profiting from their time in power and of stalling in fear of losing power.

Just after the U.N. mission finally reached its full complement of 9,000 troops and police officers in December, incidents of kidnappings increased to more than 14 a day, bringing protests by middle and working classes for the peacekeepers to get serious about fighting street gangs, or get out of Haiti.

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