WASHINGTON, Oct 12 (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday said it will boost support for the Haitian police as they battle armed gangs and will speed up delivery of aid to a country suffering from crippling shortages of basic goods due to a gang blockade of a key fuel terminal.
Haitian gangs have for a month prevented the distribution of diesel and gasoline, crippling businesses and hospitals and creating shortages of basic goods including water just as the country is struggling with a new outbreak of cholera.
The State Department has created a new visa restriction policy targeting those who support the gangs and has sent a Coast Guard vessel to patrol Haitian waters.
U.S. officials who briefed reporters on Washington's response stopped short of offering to send troops to the island nation despite appeals from the Haitian government for an international armed force.
"We are ... working to increase and deploy in the coming days security assistance to the Haitian National Police to strengthen their capacity to counter gangs and re-establish a stable security environment," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
"We will accelerate the delivery of additional humanitarian relief to the people of Haiti."
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols on Wednesday traveled to Port-au-Prince with a delegation that includes Lieutenant General Andrew Croft of the U.S. Southern Command, the State Department said.
During an earlier phone briefing with reporters, a senior Biden administration official said it was "premature to talk about just a U.S. security presence" when asked whether Washington had ruled out sending troops.
Sporadic looting and gun battles between gangs and police have become increasingly common in recent weeks as the shortages have led to mounting desperation. Protests to demand interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry's resignation have at times devolved into looting.
The Pan American Health Organization on Wednesday said civil unrest is making it harder to contain the outbreak of cholera, adding that 18 deaths have been confirmed as of Oct. 9 and hundreds of potential cases are being studied.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has proposed that one or several countries send "a rapid action force" to help Haiti's police, according to a letter to the U.N. Security Council, without suggesting that the force be deployed by the United Nations.
Another Biden administration official during the phone briefing said the travel bans were meant to hold accountable those who are linked to the gangs.
"Our intent in doing so is to demonstrate that there are consequences for those who fund and foment violence in Haiti," the official said.
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