U.N. Haiti peacekeepers face outcry over alleged rape

PORT-AU-PRINCE Mon Sep 5, 2011 10:48am EDT

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PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haitian President Michel Martelly has condemned the alleged rape of an 18-year-old local man by Uruguayan U.N. naval troops, in the latest incident to threaten the image of U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti.

Public anger in the poor, earthquake-ravaged Caribbean nation has been rising over a video shot by a cellphone camera and circulating on the Internet that shows the Uruguayan U.N. troops pinning the young Haitian man face down on a mattress and apparently assaulting him sexually in a southern town.

Haitian authorities, the U.N. Mission in Haiti and Uruguay's Defense Ministry have launched an investigation into the video. The four troops suspected of being involved have been detained and Uruguay's Navy has replaced the head of its naval contingent with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

"The Presidency vigorously condemns this act which revolts the nation's conscience and awaits a detailed report establishing the exact facts and circumstances," Martelly's office said in a statement released late on Sunday.

The victim and his mother have given testimony on the alleged assault to a Haitian judge in Port-Salut.

U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti have faced public anger before, notably over allegations that Nepalese U.N. troops brought a deadly cholera epidemic to the country after their camp latrines contaminated a local river. This sparked riots last year against the 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping contingent.

The cholera epidemic has killed more than 6,200 people since October in Haiti, which is still struggling to recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake in which more than 300,000 people died, according to the Haitian government.

International experts, including a panel tasked by the United Nations, pointed to the Nepalese contingent's riverside camp as the likely source of the cholera, although a U.N. spokesman said this was not necessarily conclusive.

In his statement late on Sunday, Martelly urged Haitian authorities and U.N. mission leaders to meet to prevent any further incidents of abuse by U.N. troops.

"The President shares the feelings of all Haitians and guarantees that those who are guilty of, or complicit in, this act will not go unpunished," he said.

The current U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, was established by the U.N. Security Council in 2004 and has been helping Haiti's short-staffed and ill-equipped police to maintain security in the volatile Caribbean state, especially during elections plagued by fraud and violence.

Martelly, who won an election in March, has acknowledged Haiti still needs the peacekeepers but has called for a redefinition of their future role and for the creation of a Haitian security force to eventually replace them.

(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Eric Beech)

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