Haiti gang war spreads in upscale suburb, embassies evacuate staff


Residents in the upscale neighbourhood of Petion-Ville on the outskirts of Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince barricaded themselves in their homes on Wednesday, local media reported, citing heavy gunfire and bodies found on the street.

Le Nouvelliste reported at least 15 people had been killed in attacks around the suburb, the site of several upscale hotels as well as around a dozen embassies, and said armed men had carried out attacks east of the city.

Petion-Ville is close to a number of hotels that gang leader Jimmy "Barbeque" Cherizier threatened last week, saying he would go after hotel owners hiding old-guard politicians behind their doors.

Despite Prime Minister Ariel Henry saying he would step down last week - a demand of the increasingly powerful gangs that have taken over the streets of Port-au-Prince - violence has continued. A presidential transition council has been brokered by international leaders but its makeup remains unclear.

US State Department officials said at the start of last week that it expected the council should be defined within a couple of days, but some factions tapped for representation rejected the plan or were unable to unite behind one leader, while those left out criticised the move as empowering members of groups they considered to be corrupt.

Meanwhile, neighbouring countries have bolstered their border security and embassies have been evacuating foreign nationals. On Tuesday, the Dominican Republic said it had evacuated close to 300 people, including personnel from the European Union, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. With the airport closed, the US said it was evacuating its citizens by helicopter.

US Army General Laura Richardson said on Tuesday that troops were "prepared" should the US government decide to become more involved in a planned international security mission - which Haiti's government requested in 2022 but remains in limbo - but that there were no current plans for such a deployment.

Haitian activist groups issued a letter on Tuesday blasting the government for a lack of transparency and said a coup had been implemented while the capital was paralysed by gang violence, without elaborating.

Hundreds of thousands have been displaced within Haiti and thousands killed amid widespread reports of rape, arson and ransom kidnappings, while food prices soar and hospitals run short of key supplies such as blood and oxygen.

Ezechiel Alexandre, the alleged leader of the Baz Pilat gang, spoke to supporters on Tuesday about his group taking control of Carrefour Feuilles, a heavily populated district which was attacked by the rival Gran Ravine gang last August, leaving thousands homeless.

"The people know they have to go back to their homes to repair their houses," said Alexandre, who escaped the national penitentiary that was recently emptied of prisoners. "They are sleeping in shelters and it's not good."

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