New gang fight in Haiti kills 20, displaces thousands

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – Gang fighting in recent days has killed at least 20 people, injured nearly two dozen and sent thousands fleeing their homes, Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency said on Wednesday.

Officials said fighting broke out on Sunday in four districts of the capital Port-au-Prince, north of the international airport. At least a dozen homes were burned as thousands of people fled their communities, with some temporarily staying in the courtyard of a local mayor’s office.

The clashes come amid an increase in violence and kidnappings, as gangs become more powerful and seek to control more territory amid the power vacuum following the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

The situation has angered and frustrated Haitians, who are demanding action from the government of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, which is receiving international help to augment an underfunded and understaffed police force.

A family of eight, including six children, has been among the dead since Sunday, officials said. Schools and businesses in the area remain closed as thousands of families with children have temporarily stayed in a park near the local mayor’s office.

“They need water, food, supplies,” said Jean Raymond Dorcely, who runs a small community-based organization. “They had to leave with nothing in their hands.”

He said the neighborhood is usually quiet and that his son often plays in the park, now turned into a makeshift outdoor shelter.

“I can see the children crying because they are hungry and the families have nothing to offer them,” he said, adding that the needs were growing as the fighting continued. “I don’t know what tomorrow will be like.”

Officials said a bullet also hit an empty United Nations Humanitarian Air Service helicopter parked near the airport.

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

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

Gang violence in the Martissant community 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 displaced thousands of families last year who spent months in overcrowded and unsanitary government shelters in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas. It was not immediately clear where the newly displaced families would be.

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

Haiti’s Office of Citizen Protection, similar to an ombudsman, released a statement condemning the violence. He criticized political leaders, saying their inaction and silence had brought “a form of cynicism or contempt for human rights, particularly the right to life and security.”

The office also questioned whether the area known as the Plaine du Cul de Sac was becoming another martissant and asked the authorities to assume their responsibility to protect citizens.

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

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