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U.N. debates whether an international force is needed to open aid routes in Haiti

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Haiti is, quote, "spinning out of control." Those are the words of the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The U.N. Security Council is now debating whether an international force is needed to open up aid routes that have been blocked by violent criminals. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: As cholera spreads through Haiti's capital, armed gangs are blocking fuel supplies, and Haitians lack access to clean water. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is sounding the alarm.

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ANTONIO GUTERRES: In the present circumstances, we need an armed action to release the port and to allow for humanitarian corridors to be established. I'm talking of something to be done in support of the Haitian police.

KELEMEN: The U.S. and Canada delivered armored vehicles and other supplies to Haiti's national police over the weekend. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield says the U.S. and Mexico have also drafted a couple of Security Council resolutions, including one that could set the stage for the kind of armed intervention that the secretary-general wants.

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LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Colleagues, if there was ever a moment to come to the aid of Haitians in dire need, it is now. Faced with extreme violence and instability, Haiti's leaders and people are crying out for help.

KELEMEN: She says the U.S. and the U.N. have also learned lessons from past interventions. A U.N. peacekeeping mission brought cholera to the island over a decade ago, and the U.S. has a long record of failures in Haiti, too. Thomas-Greenfield says diplomats are working on something different this time.

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THOMAS-GREENFIELD: This resolution will propose a limited, carefully scoped, non-U.N. mission led by a partner country with the deep necessary experience required for such an effort to be effective.

KELEMEN: Both Russia and China, which hold vetoes on the Security Council, sound hesitant to back even a limited mission. China said it should be treated with caution. Russia also criticized the U.S. for a separate resolution that would impose sanctions on armed gangs and their supporters. But both measures are backed by Haiti's foreign minister, Jean Victor Geneus, who spoke to the Security Council.

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JEAN VICTOR GENEUS: (Non-English language spoken).

KELEMEN: "I have this sensitive mission," he said, "of bringing to the Security Council the distress call from the people of Haiti." He said millions of children can't go to school, and gangs are plunging the country into chaos. In a nod to concerns about the legitimacy of the current government, the foreign minister said it is committed to future elections as soon as the security situation allows it. The government came to power after Haiti's president was assassinated over a year ago. The top U.N. diplomat in Haiti, Helen La Lime, says her office is ready to help.

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HELEN LA LIME: Any comprehensive resolution requires a Haitian-led political solution. But a political solution continues to be elusive and on its own is no longer sufficient to address the current crisis.

KELEMEN: She urged the Security Council to act decisively. The U.S. is hoping for a vote soon on its draft resolutions.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.