Kenyan police to arrive in Haiti this week, US State Department says

By Edwin Okoth and Aaron Ross

NAIROBI (Reuters) -The first Kenyan police officers assigned to tackle rampant gang violence in Haiti are leaving Kenya on Tuesday and are set to arrive this week, the U.S. State Department said on Monday.

"We hope to see further measurable improvements in security, particularly with respect to access to humanitarian aid and core economic activity," State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters.

Kenya volunteered in July 2023 to lead an international force to tackle violence in the Caribbean nation, where gangs control most of the capital Port-au-Prince and have carried out widespread killings, kidnappings and sexual violence.

The deployment has been repeatedly delayed by court challenges and a deterioration of security in Haiti, which in March forced former Prime Minister Ariel Henry to resign.

Four officers, who asked not to be named because they were not authorised to speak publicly, said their weapons and personal belongings had been collected Sunday evening to be loaded onto the plane.

Kenya's government spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Kenyan President William Ruto on Monday held a departure ceremony for 400 officers who will be the first contingent to deploy to Haiti.

"This mission is one of the most urgent, important and historic in the history of global solidarity. It is a mission to affirm the universal values of the community of nations, a mission to take a stand for humanity," Ruto said.

Another group of around 600 officers will join the first contingent later, the four officers said. They said they expected to stop in a third country before reaching Haiti.

In addition to Kenya, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Barbados, Chad and Bangladesh have pledged personnel to the 2,500-strong mission, which is being funded primarily by the United States.

Haiti's Prime Minister Garry Conille - sworn in earlier this month after Henry was forced to resign while travelling abroad - welcomed Kenya's support.

"The government and the Haitian people hope this multinational mission will be the last one to help the county stabilize so it can renew its political personnel and return to an effective democracy," Conille said on X.

Previous missions have left behind many dead civilians, a cholera outbreak and a sexual abuse scandal, but supporters hope this deployment can re-establish security so Haiti is able to hold its first elections since 2016.

Henry first called for international security support in 2022 as gangs took over Haiti's main fuel terminal.

The ongoing conflict, which has paralysed the economy, shuttered hospitals and blocked supply routes, has caused over half a million Haitians to be internally displaced and around half the country to struggle to put food on the table.

(Reporting by Edwin Okoth and Aaron Ross; Additional reporting by Simon Lewis, Daphne Psaledakis and Harold Isaac; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Hereward Holland, Rod Nickel and Cynthia Osterman and Miral Fahmy)