US warns of Haiti murder and kidnap threat
WASHINGTON, Mar 15 (AFP) — Four American nationals have been murdered in the Haitian capital since the January 12 quake, the United States said Monday, stepping up its travel warning after a high-profile kidnapping.
Updating its advice to travelers after it emerged last week that kidnappers had abducted and later freed two European aid workers, the State Department added a special section on crime-related threats.
"US citizens traveling to and residing in Haiti despite this warning are reminded that there remains a persistent danger of violent crime, including homicides and kidnappings," it said.
"Most kidnappings are criminal in nature, and the kidnappers make no distinctions of nationality, race, gender, or age. Some kidnap victims have been killed, shot, sexually assaulted, or physically abused."
The State Department provided no further information about the four American citizens it said had been murdered in Port-au-Prince since the quake and it was not immediately clear if they were Haitian Americans or not.
The abduction of the two Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) workers was the first kidnapping of foreign aid staff since the quake, which killed more than 220,000 people and left 1.3 million people homeless.
The United States ordered the departure of all non-emergency US government personnel in the immediate aftermath of the quake, but there are fears that crime could soar as the post-quake despondency grows.
Haitian police and foreign security contractors have spoken of the danger posed by thousands of hardened criminals who escaped the main prison in the capital during the earthquake.
Most of them are believed to be hiding out in Cite Soleil, a city slum devastated by the 7.0-magnitude quake where police and UN peacekeepers struggle to impose the law.
The State Department said the Haitian police force had improved since the arrival of thousands of United Nations peacekeepers in the troubled Caribbean nation in 2006 but warned that travel in the capital remained "hazardous."
US embassy personnel are under an embassy-imposed curfew and some areas of the capital, including downtown Port-au-Prince, are off limits for them after dark.