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Haitian leaders oust police chief amid gang violence

Police in Haiti have been overwhelmed by gangs that have more powerful weapons than the authorities.

Police in Haiti have been overwhelmed by gangs that have more powerful weapons than the authorities. Photo: AAP

Haitian leaders have ousted Frantz Elbé, the beleaguered director of Haiti’s National Police, following months of criticism that he was not doing enough to protect officers under assault by gangs.

A government official not authorised to speak to the media told the Associated Press on Saturday that former Haitian police chief Normil Rameau will once again take the helm of an underfunded and ill-equipped department that a United Nations report notes only has about 4000 officers on duty at a time in a country of more than 11 million inhabitants.

Rameau had been dismissed from the post nearly four years ago under a different administration.

More than 2500 people have been killed or injured across Haiti in the first three months of the year as gang violence continues to surge.

Among those killed are nearly two dozen police officers, overwhelmed by gangs that control 80 per cent of Port-au-Prince and are better equipped and have more powerful weapons.

The most recent killings targeted three officers from a newly formed anti-gang tactical unit who were on patrol in an armoured vehicle.

A fourth remains missing.

From 2015 to 2024, more than 320 police officers have been killed, with 120 of them slain under Elbé’s administration, according to a survey released this week by the local non-profit group National Network for the Defence of Human Rights.

Rameau’s appointment comes as a newly selected prime minister and cabinet take the reins of Haiti’s government with a transitional presidential council at their side.

Rameau previously served as police director-general under slain former president Jovenel Moïse, who appointed him in August 2019.

Prior to that, he oversaw the detective division.

He was ousted as police chief in November 2020 after then-prime minister Joseph Jouthe accused him of being incompetent and not producing results at a time when gangs were seizing control of more territory.

Neither Rameau nor Elbé returned messages for comment.

Haiti’s Office of Citizen Protection praised the selection of Rameau as police chief and demanded that he act swiftly to stop gang activity and establish a security plan to curb violence.

It also urged police to push judicial authorities to open investigations into the killings of citizens, including journalists, and into what it called the “spectacular” escape of more than 4500 prisoners in March after gangs stormed Haiti’s two biggest prisons.

The office said that the attack took place “with the complete indifference” of Elbé and the former ministers of justice and public security.

Haiti’s police unions have repeatedly called for Elbé’s resignation and arrest, noting that gangs have raided and burned at least 30 police stations and substations in recent months as part of a series of attacks that began on February 29 that targeted critical state infrastructure and led to the eventual resignation of former prime minister Ariel Henry.

—AAP

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