PORT-AU-PRINCE, Nov 29 — Shocking levels of criminal gang violence are spreading to rural areas in Haiti, where along with rising casualty tolls and trauma they are also impacting food production, the United Nations said in a report yesterday.

The surge in attacks documented in the district of Bas-Artibonite, 100 kilometres from the capital Port-au-Prince, underscored the need to deploy a multi-national force to boost security in Haiti before armed gangs entrench themselves further, the report argued.

“The longer it takes to deploy a specialised international force, the more robust the response will have to be,” it stated.

Haitian officials have pleaded for a year for help in battling armed gangs ravaging the Caribbean nation—just one of the challenges facing the poorest country in the Americas, whose political, economic and public health systems are also in tatters.

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A UN-backed force, led by Kenya, has been greenlit but could take months to deploy.

“The situation in Haiti is cataclysmic. We are continuing to receive reports of killings, sexual violence, displacement and other violence — including in hospitals,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a statement accompanying Tuesday’s report.

The support mission “needs to be deployed to Haiti as soon as possible,” he said.

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The report detailed how criminal gangs rampage through “rival” villages in Bas-Artibonite, raping and executing local people, and leaving them in a constant fear of kidnapping for ransom.

The gangs are also looting farmers’ land, crops and livestock, and destroying irrigation canals, while attacking those bringing food to markets. Up to 45 per cent of the district’s population was food insecure as of September, the report said.

Turk said that, across Haiti, at least 3,960 people have been killed, 1,432 injured and 2,951 kidnapped in gang-related violence this year.

The report also called for the UN Security Council to update sanctions against those fomenting violence, and for Haiti’s institutions to be strengthened — including pay rises for the island nation’s overwhelmed police force.

“There needs to be continued emphasis on the implementation of the arms embargo and sanctions targeting those behind this untenable situation,” the High Commissioner said.

“I also call on the Haitian authorities to fulfil their international human rights obligations and to put in place robust measures to strengthen the country’s institutions and improve governance, including by tackling corruption and addressing impunity.” — AFP