UN Security Council visits Haiti ahead of peacekeeper departure

Port-au-Prince (AFP) - The United Nations Security Council began a visit to Haiti on Thursday to assess the poorest country in the Americas three months before ending its 13-year peacekeeping mission there.

The delegation will meet President Jovenel Moise as well as representatives of civil society, the country's private sector and the diplomatic corps during the two-day trip.

After two years of political turmoil, Haiti has brought its electoral process to a close, but concerns persist. Economic growth remains significantly lower than in neighboring countries, as the country's poor majority struggles against inflation exceeding 15 percent annually.

Despite the country's many struggles, the improved security environment prompted the Security Council to vote in April to renew for a final six-month period its UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, known by its French acronym MINUSTAH.

Once the last foreign soldiers have gone, the UN will deploy a successor operation, the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH).

The new mission will for two years train agents of Haiti's national police and work to help the country bolster the rule of law.

MINUSTAH was deployed in 2004 after the departure of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to help stem political violence but it has not endeared itself to Haitians.

An outbreak of cholera in 2010 was introduced by Nepalese UN peacekeepers serving in the mission. More than 9,000 Haitians died in the epidemic.

"The cholera has condemned us, ruined us, and in addition continues to kill people here," said Nanouche Francois, who fell ill in 2012 and gathered along with some 200 demonstrators in front of the mission's main base Thursday to protest the visiting delegation.

"The United Nations has done nothing for us."

The Security Council visit comes as the UN aid fund for Haiti's cholera victims is in chaos: only about $2.7 million of the $400 million needed for the relief funds have been raised.

In December, former UN chief Ban Ki-moon apologized to Haitians over the cholera outbreak, but the UN does not consider itself legally responsible for the situation.

The MINUSTAH operation in Haiti also ranks among those with the highest number of cases of sexual abuse.

"It is a mission that has done a lot of harm in Haiti: I am glad that MINUSTAH is leaving," said Pierre Esperance, director of the country's National Human Rights Defense Network.