A Brazilian general formally took command of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti on Wednesday, replacing another officer who had been criticized for perceived inaction against street gangs that threaten to undermine fall elections.
Lt. Gen. Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar assumed control over the 7,600-strong force during a ceremony attended by special U.N. envoy to Haiti Juan Gabriel Valdes and other diplomats.
Bacellar, 57, replaces another Brazilian, Lt. Gen. Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, who had led U.N. troops since they were deployed to Haiti in June 2004 to restore stability after a bloody revolt toppled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Heleno Ribeiro announced in June that he wanted to leave his post to give another officer a chance to lead. He has denied his decision was influenced by criticism that troops have been too passive in combating well-armed gangs that threaten elections scheduled for November and December _ the first since Aristide's ouster.
Following the criticism, U.N. troops have stepped up efforts to root out gangs in several volatile slums, improving security in some.
On Tuesday, troops arrested nine suspected gang members in Bel-Air, a slum teeming with gunmen loyal to Aristide.
Valdes presented Heleno Ribeiro with a U.N. medal and thanked him for his role in the "enormously difficult task" of bringing stability to Haiti.
Heleno Ribeiro thanked his family for giving him the "strength to overcome unfair criticism" and praised Valdes for his "support and friendship" during his tenure.
The U.N. Security Council extended the mission's mandate for another eight months in June. The peacekeeping force _ which comprises 6,200 troops and 1,400 civilian police officers from over 40 countries, AP reported.
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