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nox haiti

nox haiti

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Published by Bryan Denton

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Published by: Bryan Denton on Nov 07, 2010
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11/07/2010

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Port authority
 Jordan is the fourth largest provider of troops to UN peace-keepingmissions around the world. There are few places, though, where their service is more misunderstood – or more dangerous – than Haiti
Words and pictures: Bryan Denton
101
 
also the strongholds o the
 Lavalas
, ousted president Aristide’s populistparty. Te
zinglendo
roam the streets openly brandishing rearms, anduntil just over a month ago the Haitian police had not entered the CitéSoleil district since the overthrow o Aristide’s government in 2004. TeJordanian Army have to counter their inuence in the slums, mainly by eective policing, but occasionally by means that resemble urban warare.As one Jordanian major said, “the local population views us as occupiersdue to some o our tactics... Yet, i we do not ght against them, the localgovernment and the UN will tell us we are not doing an adequate job.”As a result, the Jordanian soldiers have become a less-than-popularpresence in the city, and have been the subject o increasingly violentattention since their arrival. In January o 2006, two Jordanian soldierswere killed and a third wounded in an ambush while manning acheckpoint in Cité Soleil, and as recently as November 11th this year,First Lieutenant Ahmad Mohammad Hassan Ba’irat and CorporalRami Wasi aha al-Mohammad were killed while on patrol in Sonapi– a section o Port-au-Prince where drug trafcking supplementskidnapping as a principal means o revenue. ragically, both soldierswere a matter o weeks away rom the end o their six-monthdeployment. With the recent casualties, the number o Jordanian
“I
t’s probably better i you put on your armour now,” PrivateAwni Rababa’a says beore climbing into the unarmoured UN van used to shuttle Jordan’s military personnel around Port-au-Prince, capital o the Caribbean island o Haiti. “We’re in a yellow zone,which means security has improved,” he adds as his bullet clips clickinto place, “but up until a ew months ago, it was still red, so leavingthe base can be the most dangerous part o our day.”Armour or not, riding around this war-torn, poverty-stricken islandrequires all Jordanian vehicles to be well stocked with weapons. Beoreexiting through the gate o the Jordan Battalion (JorBat), rounds arechambered in M-4 carbines and the signature blue helmets o theUN are strapped on. On the outside, the aces o young Haitian streetchildren, most without shoes and ew completely dressed save or a ew rags, appear rom nowhere asking or “khubis” in their reshly-learnedArabic. Others put their ngers together in that amiliar gesture o patience and shout the distinctly Jordanian “dagiga”! Some bear largescars that children under the age o ten have no business having.Even in the white UN armoured personnel carriers (APCs) – describedby Lieutenant Badarneh, a middle-aged commissioned oicer, as“warrior machines” – city patrols with the Jordanian orces are rapid.Zooming through the melée that is Haitian street trafc, thousands o pounds o battle-hardened steel bump over unpaved streets with boxeso 20mm machine-gun rounds jostling around the oven-hot interior.Te soldiers, most o them wearing mirrored sunglasses, survey thestreets with ngers gently resting on the triggers o their ries – it is,or the Jordanian Army here, modus operandi.Based in a military camp outside the slums o Cité Soleil, a violentstrip o coastal land west o downtown Port-au-Prince, the JordanianArmy orms an integral part o the United Nations’ peacekeepingmission in Haiti. Since President Jean Bertrand-Aristide’s high-proleousting in February 2004, the island nation has been a scene o extremeinstability, dire poverty and, at times, brutally random violence. O all the nations to provide troops, Jordan’s orces, an amalgamation o regiments rom across the country and made up o soldiers rom Salt,Ajloun and Jerash, have arguably the most difcult task o all; cleaningup the gang-riddled squalour that circles the capital. It was the roleullled by the US Marines beore they were withdrawn to serve in Iraq.Te gangsters, or
zinglendo
as they’re known in the local Creole dialect,practice targeted killings and kidnappings in the slums o Cité Soleiland Bel Air, which they control almost unhindered. Tese slums are
“If we do not fight against them, thelocal government and the UN will tellus we are not doing an adequate job”
51
 
gland inections and respiratory issues amongst the population. Still,compared to 12 months earlier, it’s an improvement o sorts.Ater the checkpoint, the caravan o heavy armour continues outsideo Port-au-Prince to the shores o Lake Saumatre. Here, more bundles o ood and back-packs containing school supplies are distributed to villageswith no running water or electricity. Te locals clamour around thetrucks to receive the packages, many with armsul o children, shoutingor their place in line as an American NGO worker with sickly bleachedhair and medical scrubs attempts to control the crowd. Te ood issufcient or maybe the rest o the day or a amily o three or our. TeJordanians provide the back-up, some o them leaping rom their vehicles,again mounted with heavy machine guns, to take pictures with miniaturedigital cameras – capturing each other and o the bedlam in ront o them.Poverty on this scale is bewildering, even to Jordanians romcommunities hardly considered, on a global scale, much more thanimpoverished themselves. Te cultural dierences, though, remain.Pulling o the main highway heading east towards the Dominicanborder, the road gets rougher and, reaching the outskirts o a village,Private Awni’s eyes are transxed on the communal well, where localwomen are bathing hal naked. “Strange, eh? Not much like Jordan,” onetroops killed while serving the UN in Haiti has risen to nine – thehighest death toll o any contingent serving here.Te ambush came at a time when the relations with the local populace,and thereore the mood among the troops, was showing signs o improvement. “It has been airly quiet these last ve months,” says FirstLieutenant Maged Badarneh rom within the well-ordered saety o JorBat’sheadquarters. But once again, tension and wholesale suspicion dominatethe exchanges. A private, who wants to be known only as Nader, requently mans the JorBat gate and sees many locals rom his post, many o whomcome begging or ood. Supplies are distributed weekly, albeit mostly outside o Port-au-Prince in the smaller communities. “I give them breadsometimes,” he says, quietly. “Tey have no home or amily to eed them.”In addition to handing out regular supplies o ree ood, theJordanian contingent also operates a complimentary clinic withinthe JorBat compound, serving a surrounding community that oersprecious little in the way o direct access to even the most basic o medical services. Te small one-room clinic is run out o a trailer,where Dr Mohammad al-Shboul, a dentist rom Ajloun in northernJordan, sees patients daily, assisted by a local builder who has learnedenough Arabic in the past two years to work as a translator.Te illnesses are mainly related to malnutrition, although heoccasionally sees patients with more serious conditions he admits he isnot equipped to handle – AIDS among them. As Dr al-Shboul writes aprescription, which Haitian patients can ll at the JorBat pharmacy at nocost, Lieutenant Badarneh motions to the gate, where a patrol is about to visit a static checkpoint run by Jordanians on the outskirts o Cité Soleil.Te checkpoints prove to be relatively simple aairs. wo whitearmoured personnel carriers set up a security “choke” point on eitherside o the street, stopping cars to inspect or weapons or simply providing the psychological eect o an armed presence. “We show orce and, in turn, saety and security improves,” Lt Badarneh says.“But it is still dangerous. Many o the gangs don’t like our presencethis close to their bases because they eel they are losing territory.In the middle o the day, the checkpoint is largely peaceul, with streettrafc owing smoothly and residents selling an abundance o goods inthe open-air markets that line the street. “You couldn’t even walk downthis street a year ago, and look at it now,” Lt Badarneh adds, with nolittle pride, staring down at a etid road black with raw sewage, whereuncollected garbage spills out in giant lakes. But the dearth o sanitationservices means litter is oten burned on the spot, leading to a host o 
“Strange, eh? Notmuch like Jordan”
53

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