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(AFP) — Haitian President Jovenel Moise on Tuesday installed the leaders of his country’s army, a symbolic step in the impoverished Caribbean country’s reformation of a military demobilised 23 years ago after decades of coups and political interference.
Human rights activists have criticised the choice of the general and five colonels who will lead the army, as they are members of the old guard.
One of the colonels stands accused of extrajudicial killings of civilians in 1994, during military rule.
“This is not an emotional or a partisan act, aimed at pleasing one political camp or group — this is an act of state, one that is patriotic and inclusive,” Moise said at an installation ceremony.
Haiti’s armed forces, dissolved in 1995 by then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, were reborn in 2015 under the leader at the time, Michel Martelly.
The country’s army, currently at 150 soldiers, was trained in Ecuador.
When he took office a year ago, Moise made the restoration of the military a priority, especially as the UN pulled its peacekeepers out in October 2017.
Faced with concerns about the military’s intent, and the possibility that abuses could recur, the government has been at pains to reassure the population that the military is needed.
“Today, Haiti’s armed forces are a powerful tool in crisis and disaster management for a country that is constantly confronted by natural catastrophes,” said Defense Minister Herve Denis.
Additional soldiers were recruited beginning in summer 2017, but the process has stalled after hundreds between the ages of 18 and 25 signed up.
Haiti hopes eventually to field an army of 3,000-5,000 soldiers.
The funding of the military raised eyebrows both at home and abroad, given that the defense ministry’s entire budget stands at 6.3 million euros (US$7.8 million).
The military brass will return to their old headquarters in the heart of Port-au-Prince, facing the presidential palace. The building had been used by the culture ministry, which now needs a new home.