1 May 2010
Not in our house, don’t worry.
As you know, I share the apartment with Johnny, our Lebanese security adviser. When we were having dinner this evening, he received a call from one of our colleagues living in Petionville, further down the hill from us, that they thought there was somebody in the house, and they also heard footsteps on the roof. Sensibly, they had locked themselves in the bedroom, behind a metal grill, but what to do next?
So Johnny and I jumped in the car (never mind that I had just had four rum-punches celebrating the Dutch Queen’s birthday – even in Haiti we have a large enough Dutch community for the national anthem) and rushed down the hill to the house of our colleagues. On the way, Johnny called the police, the UN emegency number and our own security company. When we reached the house – obviously we were the first ones – we passed once, observing, then drove around and approached again, stopping in front of the gate. Johnny knew what he was doing (I didn’t), he must have done this before. We found the guards, who knew something was amiss and thus tried to stay as far away as possible, at the gate to the property; a few minutes later the security company arrived, with more guards, who also congregated around the gate. Then the UN police arrived, with no less than two batallions of MINUSTAH troops. They also congregated around the gate, but nothing happened, really. A few flash lights were shone onto the roof, and inside. We called the people inside, they were still holed up in the bedroom, but now more concerned because they thought they had seen a flashlight inside – the connection with us shining lights through the window was, understandably, not made; how could they have known? Finally the PNH, the Police National d’Haiti arrived too, in combat outfit – but they always wear combat outfit, even if they regulate the traffic, so that doesn’t mean much. And then, somehow without anybody noticing in the pandemonium, they left again, so that when the troops finally – this is now some 20 minutes later – decided that they should enter the compound, they couldn’t, because they have no mandate to operate without the PNH. In the mean time the landlord, who lives next door, had also appeared on the scene, with a massive shotgun, and 20 bullets stuck in a belt around his waist. Really! Rambo, only a little older. He congregated around the gate, too, occasionally threatening to shoot, but mostly with his huge gun pointing to the sky, in one arm. Still, nothing happened.
And then everything changed. Another UN car pulled up, and two huge black policemen got out. They wanted to talk to the people in the house (and it transpired later that they questioned them on the lay-out, where they were, their situation etc.), then they wanted to talk to the MINUSTAH commander, a Jordanian who didn’t speak French neither English – at these moments it helps if you have a Lebanese security guy who also speaks Arabic! They took full control, gave orders, and everybody listened. They called once again for the PNH – who miraculously showed up again, immediately. Then they went inside, accompanid by PNH and guards. I am not sure how the situation played out afterwards – I was watching from the back, to be sure – but a few minutes later they had been around the house, on to the roof, and also inside – whilst the door had been locked, and they didn’t have keys: interesting. And then they arrested a guy, outside, whether the intruder or somebody in the wrong place at the wrong time, we will never know – but they probably got the right guy. And he was lucky; I think that if the landlord had gotten to him first, he would not have survived. Our colleagues got out of the house, and then the whole thing was over, five minutes after these two policemen arrived. Americans, as it later turned out, but boy, were they professional! Very impressive!
I wrote in one of the comments on a previous blog that my main security concern was the random, or targeted, break-in, in my own house. Having seen this, I am a lot more comfortable, there is in fact an extremely efficient force to deal with these things, and they are accessible. And, as so often, cocktail party talk for years to come!!
next: the evictions