Port-Au-Prince, Haiti: UN and Haitian police raided a crowded earthquake survivor camp on Friday to capture 30 criminal suspects in the biggest law-enforcement operation since the Jan. 12 earthquake.
The pre-dawn raid startled the tens of thousands living under leaky plastic tarps around a monumental flagpole at Port-au-Prince`s abandoned military airport. Most said they were grateful for the incursion, which they hope will reduce rampant crime in the burgeoning shantytown.
"They arrested people who are causing trouble. They`re people who go into people`s tents and tarps and take cell phones," said Relye Lima, a 24-year-old. "They are making sure people can sleep at night in peace."
The incursion was a response to rising insecurity at homeless settlements that are still swelling more than five months after the earthquake. The numbers of people streaming in in search of aid, unable to make rent in houses that are otherwise habitable, have swelled the camps to an estimated 1.5 million people.
Police swept through one of Port-au-Prince`s largest and most crowded settlements, nicknamed "Jean-Marie Vincent" after a Roman Catholic priest gunned down in 1994. Since shortly after the quake, people have been adding permanent metal and wood elements to their tents, turning what was an empty field used for soccer games into a huge slum.
Brazilian soldiers with the 14,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force formed a perimeter around the camp shortly before dawn. Some 165 U.N. police and Haitian police, many in riot gear, then ran into the camp and began looking for suspects, U.N. police spokesman Jean-Francois Vezina said.
There were no reports of tear gas or gunshots being fired during the two-hour operation. Witnesses said the targeted men scrambled into whatever shelter they could find to hide from authorities.
"We had a lot of cooperation from the people inside the camp," Vezina said.
Jean Brunel, a 32-year-old who sells medication for a few cents a pill, said he was pleased.
"I wasn`t able to work today (because of the raid), but I`m happy police are getting involved to provide security in the camp," he said. One of the men captured is suspected of escaping Port-au-Prince`s national penitentiary when a wall cracked during the magnitude-7 quake. All the inmates fled from the dangerously overcrowded prison, where the vast majority were held awaiting prosecution.
The 30 men arrested Friday are being held at a Port-au-Prince police station.