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Haitians fleeing gangs set up camp around capital's main square

FILE PHOTO: People fleeing from gang violence, in Port-au-Prince

By Harold Isaac

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) -Thousands of Haitians prepared to sleep in schools and a theater around the main square of Port-au-Prince on Friday, after fresh attacks by armed gangs pushed already displaced people downtown to seek shelter wherever they could.

The Gran Ravine gang, led by Renel Destina, has besieged the densely populated neighborhood of Carrefour Feuilles for weeks, forcing aid workers to withdraw and thousands of people to flee their homes. Under-resourced police have struggled to contain the violence.

Dailove Pompilus, who was nine months pregnant, said she had no choice but to come to the Champ de Mars square after the gang attacked her home in Carrefour Feuilles, killing her 3-year-old son.

"My first child," she said. "They burned down the house with him inside."

Sophia Jean, another resident, fled with her 8-month-old baby and the clothes on her back. "I did not have time to take anything," she said.

By nightfall, people took refuge at nearby schools and the Rex theater.

Yves Penel, a theater manager speaking at the main square, said hundreds of people had arrived overnight on Thursday and they had created committees to manage food, water and hygiene.

"I grew up in Carrefour Feuilles," said Penel. "We will do what we have to do."

The United Nations estimates more than 10,000 people have been displaced in the last two weeks alone.

Thursday night marked the first time since the catastrophic 2010 earthquake that people have camped in the Champ de Mars, the capital's main square that is home to historical monuments honoring heroes of the Haitian Revolution.

'NOWHERE TO GO'

"They shot at us," said Clerina Coffy, who ran from Place Jeremie, a makeshift camp roughly 1 mile (1.5 km) away, with her three children during Thursday night. "We are here because we have nowhere to go with the kids."

Local reporters said some people looking to leave the city had gathered at a bus station while elsewhere civil defense groups reinforced barricades.

With school classes set to resume this month but many now hosting displaced people, the education ministry called for the buildings to be protected.

Haiti's gang warfare has left some 2,500 dead and 1,000 injured since January, according to the U.N., amid widespread kidnappings, lynchings and sexual violence.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to vote on a plan to send international security assistance, which Haiti's unelected government requested last October. A Kenyan delegation met with police chiefs last month but countries have been wary and a multinational force has yet to materialize.

(Reporting by Harold Isaac, Jean Loobentz Cesar and Ralph Tedy Erol in Port-au-Prince and Sarah Morland in Mexico City; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Rosalba O'Brien and William Mallard)