PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - The United Nations on Tuesday blamed political and criminal “spoilers” in Haiti for attacks on U.N. peacekeepers, saying those agitators sought to sabotage elections this month by manipulating public fear over a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 1,000 people.
Following anti-U.N. riots in two Haitian cities on Monday in which one protester was shot to death by a U.N. soldier, U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police were bracing for possible further violence.
The capital, Port-au-Prince, was calm and the United Nations sent reinforcements with armored personnel carriers to Cap-Haitien in the north, the country’s second city and main focus of the latest violence.
On Monday U.N. troops were fired on and pelted with stones by protesters who blamed them for bringing the cholera bacteria to Haiti, which had not experienced an epidemic of the diarrheal disease for a century. The world body has denied Nepalese peacekeepers are the source of the cholera.
The head of the U.N. mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH, Edmond Mulet, blamed political agitators for the anti-U.N. attacks in Cap-Haitien and in Hinche in the central region.
He said they were seeking to disrupt presidential and legislative elections set for November 28 in the impoverished country, which suffered a devastating earthquake in January.
“All this is certainly not spontaneous,” Mulet told Reuters in an e-mail, adding the United Nations had found the attacks in Cap-Haitien were “well planned and coordinated.”
“Traditional spoilers, ex-FADH (ex-members of the Haitian army), certain politicians, criminal figures, groups opposing the elections, are behind these incidents. The cholera epidemic fell into their lap as a good opportunity to create this situation,” Mulet said.
U.N. police spokesman Andre Leclerc told Reuters the situation in Hinche was calm on Tuesday. In Cap-Haitien, a small group of protesters yelled anti-U.N. slogans and threw stones in the morning near the U.N. headquarters in the northern city but no serious fresh violence was reported.
Cholera deaths in the month-old epidemic rose to 1,034 up to November 14, with 16,799 people treated in hospitals, according to figures published by Haiti’s Health Ministry on Tuesday.
“We are still coming across small villages where people are begging us to help stop this disease. There is not a single toilet or latrine in many of these rural villages,” Paula Brennan, cholera response manager for the Oxfam charity in Artibonite, a region north of the capital, said in a report.
The cholera epidemic has piled another crisis on the Western Hemisphere’s poorest state, stoking fear and anger in the already traumatized population as it struggles to rebuild from the January 12 quake that killed more than 250,000 people.
Cholera is spread by contaminated water and food but if caught early can be easily treated by oral rehydration fluids.
Despite the health, humanitarian and security challenges, Mulet said that from the logistics, technical and security points of view, “we can have successful elections.”
“We had expected these kind of incidents to happen, which have been part of previous electoral processes in Haiti. The vast majority of Haitians want elections, despite the last-resort actions by anti-democratic forces,” Mulet said.
Hostility against the 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti has focused on the Nepalese contingent, whose camp in the Center province, at the headwaters of the Artibonite River, has been the subject of widespread rumors that it may have caused the original cholera outbreak.
The United Nations has repeatedly denied that riverside latrines at the Nepalese camp were the cause of the cholera.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said DNA testing shows the cholera strain in Haiti is most closely related to a strain from South Asia. But it has not linked it directly to the Nepalese troops, whom the United Nations says tested negative for the disease.
Mulet said the U.N. mission had not yet considered withdrawing or relocating the Nepalese. “It would be very unfair to be part of a stigmatization campaign. On the other hand, if they can’t be operational in that part of the country, they could be replaced by another contingent,” he said.
The November 28 vote will choose a successor to President Rene Preval, who cannot be re-elected after serving two terms, a 99-member parliament and 11 members of the 30-seat Senate.
Writing and additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher in Miami; Editing by Xavier Briand