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Haiti's neighbors on alert, recall embassy staff after 'drastic' escalation in gang violence

Haiti declares state of emergency amidst gang-driven chaos and mass jailbreak in Port-au-Prince.

Haiti's neighbors have begun boosting their defenses and recalling embassy staff as gang violence in the Caribbean nation escalates "drastically.”

Haiti's de facto government on Sunday declared a 72-hour state of emergency and imposed nightly curfews after armed gangs stormed the country’s two largest prisons and freed thousands of inmates over the weekend.

Gangs now control 80% of the capital of Port-au-Prince, and are fighting to seize the rest.

"The conflict has escalated drastically, with rival gangs coordinating to extend their control over Port-au-Prince, and violent acts are occurring in broad daylight," said the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian NGO, noting that the situation forced aid groups it works with to pause their work.

Nearly 15,000 are estimated to have fled gunfire in the capital since Friday.

The Dominican Republic that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti said on Monday its defense minister was touring the border to observe progress on a border fence and the "operational readiness of the military."

The construction of a wall along the Dominican Republic’s border with Haiti began in 2022, with the aim of stopping irregular migration as well as the smuggling of weapons, drugs and goods.

Meanwhile, the neighboring Bahamas recalled embassy staff, leaving just its charge d'affaires and two security attaches.

Mexico also advised its nationals not to travel to Haiti and asked those already in the country to avoid making any non-essential journeys and to stock up on water, fuel and non-perishables.

Gang leaders are calling for resignation of Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry, whose whereabouts are unknown since he traveled to Kenya to seal a deal for the African nation to lead a UN-backed security force in the fight against gangs in the country.

Gang violence has plagued Haiti for years, but it has further escalated since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021.

Early this year, the United Nations estimated that some 300,000 had been internally displaced, fleeing indiscriminate killings, routine sexual violence, abductions and lootings as well-armed rival gangs fought over territory.

More harm than good

In October 2022, Henry called on the international community to help set up a specialized armed force to quell Haiti’s escalating violence.

The United States rushed to answer the call for the international mission, however a deployment has been stalled as no country had agreed to lead such a mission to Haiti.

Rights activists have raised doubts over the prospect of foreign intervention, saying past missions have brought more harm than good.

They called on countries to ensure adequate safeguards are in place.

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