MALPASSE, Haiti After nearly four years working to stabilize Haiti's government, U.N. peacekeepers in this struggling country are shifting their focus to the border and cracking down on smuggling and human trafficking, the international mission chief said Saturday.
Observation points and bases are being built along the Haitian-Dominican border to deter illegal crossers and prevent the exchange of drugs and arms, U.N. envoy Hedi Annabi said.
He visited the 255-mile border on Saturday, stopping at a future U.N.-run operations base near the main commercial crossing point of Malpasse, the closest entry point to the Haitian capital.
"Everybody knows the border is out of control. We don't have the resources or infrastructure to manage it," Haiti's customs chief Jean-Jacques Valentin said while touring the area with the U.N. delegation.
Since being deployed after a February 2004 uprising that ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the 7,800-strong U.N. force has helped rebuild Haiti's government and suppressed violent gangs in the capital. Now, about 120 soldiers will be stationed at four bases along the porous border.
Three have been completed. The fourth, planned for Malpasse, will be finished in a month, Annabi said. A Jordanian platoon will use it to coordinate operations and monitor the brush-covered mountains and saltwater Lake Azuei, which is popular with smugglers.
From the planned base, "you can control the breadth of the lake and make sure nobody is coming across that shouldn't be coming across, and you can also control the road," Annabi told The Associated Press. Haitian authorities will take over the bases when the U.N. mission ends.
Dionisio Javier, customs chief in the neighboring Dominican border town of Jimani, said the increased U.N. presence is welcome.
"In terms of Dominican-Haitian relations, we understand that the U.N. improves things," he said.
Enforcement problems along the remote Caribbean border are as vast as the arid countryside that surrounds it.
Hundreds of thousands of Haitians cross illegally each year, many of them seeking low-wage jobs on Dominican sugar plantations and construction sites. Migrants complain of abuses by Dominican guards, including a new 1,000-member force that received training and equipment from the U.S. government.
Anelia Fortine, a 27-year-old Haitian who sells fruit on the Dominican side, said she is often shaken down for money.
"If you don't have enough, they take what is in your purse garlic, beans, whatever," she said.
Other migrants accuse guards of watching idly as gangs rob them, but Dominican officials deny that such practices are widespread.