Haiti: Gang program struggles to reduce illegal arms
A Haitian program aimed at convincing gang members to give up their weapons has achieved minimal results and critics say hundreds of thousands of illegal arms still circulate in the streets.
In the past three months, more than 200 submachine guns and assault rifles as well as more than 6,000 rounds have been handed in to authorities, Alix Fils-Aime, who heads a government commission on disarmament, told AFP.
Also, as part of a major UN-government crackdown aimed at ridding the harshest streets of gang violence, UN soldiers have arrested around 400 armed gang members and confiscated dozens of their weapons.
But according to an investigation made public by a Swiss non-governmental group in 2005, as many as 250,000 illegal arms are held in Haiti, making violent crime increasingly difficult to conquer.
Fils-Aime admitted it is tough to convince gangland kingpins to give up their handguns, or even private citizens to turn over guns they keep at home for their own security.
"It would be necessary and encouraging for all sectors to participate," he said.
More than 300 gang members, most from the gang-stronghold area of Cite Soleil, have signed up for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program, though it has drawn criticism from rights groups.
Most of the "demobilized" are under 23 years of age. If they are not wanted by authorities, they receive an allowance in exchange for joining a reintegration program and can get professional training and psychological consults.
Pierre Esperance of the Haitian Coalition for Human Rights said that many who take part in the program keep up with their criminal activities on the side.
"The program is ineffective because it is not done transparently, and can encourage impunity," he said.
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