A resident walks past a National Police officer guarding the empty National Penitentiary after a small fire inside the jail in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Haiti, Thursday, March 14, 2024. This is the same prison that armed gangs stormed late March 2 and hundreds of inmates escaped. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)
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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti  — A plan to create a transitional presidential council is moving forward after a majority of Haitian parties and coalitions submitted the names of those charged with finding new leaders for the country, Caribbean officials said Thursday.

The names were provided to a regional trade bloc known as Caricom that is helping lead the transition.

“It is all up now to the Haitians as they are the ones who want a Haitian-led solution,” Surinamese Foreign Minister Albert Ramdin told The Associated Press. “It is for them to pick up the ball and run with it, being responsible for their own destiny.”

He spoke a day after Haitian politicians and influential figures bickered publicly about the plan and what names to submit, seemingly putting creation of the council at risk.

Caribbean leaders had announced plans to create the council after meeting in Jamaica Monday behind closed doors with officials including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Shortly after the meeting, Prime Minister Ariel Henry pledged to resign once the council is created.

The council will be responsible for choosing an interim prime minister and a council of ministers, as well as help organize general elections, which haven’t been held in nearly a decade.

“We hope this is a breakthrough for Haiti,” Ramdin said.

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He said Caricom officials met Wednesday night for an update on the situation.

The names haven’t been made public, although a senior Caribbean official not authorized to speak to the media told the AP that the Dec. 21 Agreement group, which backs the current prime minister, has not submitted a name.

In addition, Jean-Charles Moïse, who leads the Petit Desalin party and has allied with former rebel leader and convicted money launderer Guy Philippe, announced Wednesday that his party would not join the council despite the offer of a voting position.

The others awarded a spot on the council are EDE/RED, a party led by former Prime Minister Claude Joseph; the Montana Accord, a group of civil society leaders, political parties and others; Fanmi Lavalas, the party of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide; the Jan. 30 Collective, which represents parties including that of former President Michel Martelly; and the private sector.

Of the remaining two nonvoting positions, one would go to a representative of Haiti’s civil society and the other to its religious sector.

It wasn’t immediately clear what would happen to the position rejected by Moïse and his party.

U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said Thursday that the U.N. special envoy for Haiti, María Isabel Salvador, remains in contact with many key political and civil society representatives and is “encouraging them to act in the best interest of the people of Haiti to resolve this crisis as quickly as possible.”

The push to create a council comes as Haiti’s capital and other areas become increasingly overrun by powerful gangs that control around 80% of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

On Feb. 29, gunmen launched a series of attacks on key state institutions, including police stations, the main international airport and Haiti’s two biggest prisons, where more than 4,000 inmates were freed. Scores of people have died in the attacks, and more than 15,000 people have been left homeless.

The violence has somewhat subsided, although a fire was reported Thursday at the National Penitentiary in downtown Port-au-Prince, one of two prisons attacked more than a week ago. It wasn’t immediately clear if anyone was injured or killed in the blaze or how it started.

Dujarric said some of the U.N.’s 267 international staff whose presence in Haiti is not essential are being moved to the neighboring Dominican Republic to work remotely, given “the volatile security situation.” He added that other U.N. staff needed to deal with the ongoing humanitarian crisis will be going to Haiti.

The U.N. political mission announced that an air bridge was being established between Haiti and the Dominican Republic including to bring in some supplies and staff, but Dujarric said it isn’t operational yet.

When the attacks began, Prime Minister Henry was in Kenya to try and secure a U.N.-backed deployment of a police force from the East African country. The deployment, however, has been put on hold. Meanwhile, Henry remains in Puerto Rico, unable to return home.

Schools, gas stations and airports remain closed in Port-au-Prince and beyond, although public transportation has resumed, and a growing number of Haitians have been seen on previously empty streets.

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