Security concerns still abound in Haiti

The Miami HeraldJanuary 21, 2010 

The 5.9 aftershock that rattled Haiti Wednesday churned up debris at the remains of the Lesley Center market downtown. Suddenly, packaged men's dress shirts, sheets and purses were jostled free from the rubble.

Young men sprinted to the store, climbed inside and pulled out goods. One man lifted a box on his shoulder and ran off. A boy on a crutch, slapping away others, hobbled away with a few packages.

Then a white pickup truck on patrol pulled up. Two glowering Haitian policemen in green vests chased the group away with batons, then drove off. A group of young men strode back defiantly and began to loot again. Minutes later, the policemen returned and chased them away again.

The scene was repeated a third time. Finally, a beefy Haitian police officer wielding a handgun fired a warning shot in the air, scattering the crowd -- in a fruitless exercise.

"They can't do nothing," William Dejene, 15, said of the police. "It's not the looters' fault. They have to steal."

Looters said they have to forage during daylight because police will shoot them at night.

"They are the bad guys," Samuel Charlad, 32, who lost his wife and 2-year-old twin daughters in the quake, said of the officers. "They would kill all of us."

Haitian National Police Chief Mario Andresol said officers are not permitted to shoot people who are looting. He said looters are just hungry, while the "bad guys" are the ones who shoot at officers.

"Arrest the bad guys, protect the population against the bad guys and protect businesses," he said of his mission.

It's a pressing challenge, given how few police there are and how many hungry and desperate citizens they face. Though the growing military presence is being felt, and some business owners say they feel safe enough to reopen, anxiety about security permeates the Port-au-Prince metro area.

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