PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Residents in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince expressed cautious hope after a first contingent of Kenyan police officers arrived in the Caribbean country, as part of a long-delayed mission to help police fight armed gangs.

A few hundred Kenyan police officers landed in Haiti this week to lead a United Nations-ratified mission set to number over 2,500 – though it remains unclear when the remaining forces could arrive.

Port-au-Prince resident Jean-Louis Pierre told Reuters he was hopeful the Kenyan deployment could help but only if they stay long enough to ensure that security is sustainable.

“Now that the forces have arrived, the country can improve, but they need to stay. A few months or a year is not enough because the country will fall into the same problem,” Pierre said.

The mission’s initial 12-month mandate is set to expire in October. Previous missions in Haiti have left behind slain civilians, a deadly cholera outbreak and a sexual abuse scandal, for which reparations were never made.

The force was requested by Haiti’s previous government in 2022, but gangs have since united under a common alliance and taken over swathes of the capital, bringing indiscriminate killings, ransom kidnappings, mass sexual violence and paralyzing the movement of people and goods.

Though some activities have gradually restarted over the last month, the U.N. estimates five million people are struggling to put food on the table and over half a million are internally displaced.

New Prime Minister Garry Conille told reporters on Wednesday he would re-take the country “house by house.”

But even as Kenyan police arrived, an unverified video shared on social media appeared to show gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, who has acted as a spokesman for the gang alliance, rallying his men.

“Here’s Kenya: Shoot!” Cherizier chanted. “We don’t care whether you are white or black,” he said. “If you are not Haitian and you are on the ground, we consider that you are an invader.”

In the video, Cherizier led a couple dozen rifle-hoisting followers whose faces were obscured by hoods or balaclavas.

Conille has urged the armed groups to lay down their weapons and aid groups have expressed concern for civilians who could get caught in the crossfire. The U.N. estimates up to half of gang recruits are children.

“Most young men are armed right now. They eat and drink because of those weapons,” student Venart Simeone told Reuters.

“I would not want to be in their place and I ask God not to put me in it. What the country needs is work, so young people are able to live well.”

(Reporting by Steven Aristil, Harold Isaac and Sarah Morland; Editing by Michael Perry)

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