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Last updated: 04 October, 2006 - Published 20:35 GMT
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Haiti police visit gang stronghold

Haiti police on patrol
Haiti police on guard in the capital
Following an incident-free visit by Haitian policemen to the capital's most notorious slum, a senior police officer said Wednesday it was the first step towards re-opening a base there.

On Tuesday, dozens of heavily armed policemen toured run-down Cite Soleil, shaking hands and chatting with residents in what they hoped was a gesture of friendship.

U.N. troops atop armoured personnel patrolled the area, guns at the ready. It was the first time in 3 years that police were able to venture into Cite Soleil.

No-go area
Their stroll lasted just an hour, but it says much that they were able to enter the slum at all.

In recent years it has become a no-go area for anyone but the gang members and token presence by United Nations peacekeepers: a kind of lawless state within a state.

It's where the gangs take many of their kidnap victims, safe in the knowledge they would not, perhaps could not, be pursued.

Cite Soleil also has a large waterfront. Police believe that drugs are shipped in and out with relative freedom.

The gangs there and in the less notorious slum Bel Air but did release the shackles somewhat earlier this year.

I was among a group of journalists who were, with heavy military escort, able to watch campaigning for the general elections.

That was February. Since then the gangs have returned to bad old days of violence and kidnappings.

Cite Soliel is a political stronghold of the former president Jean Bertrand Aristide. The police is the enemy.

Residents accuse them of atrocities against Aristide supporters, during the 2 year rule of the interim government that ran Haiti between Aristide's departure in 2004, and Preval's election.

The government and UN peacekeepers have recently begun negotiating with gang members to persuade them to lay down their arms.

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