More than a dozen suspected gang members were stoned and burned alive on Monday by residents in Port-au-Prince, police and witnesses said, as the UN warned that insecurity in the Haitian capital has reached levels similar to countries at war.
"During a search of a minibus in which there were armed individuals, the police confiscated weapons and other equipment. In addition, more than a dozen individuals traveling in this vehicle were unfortunately lynched by members of the population," the police said in a statement.
The police did not specify the exact number of victims, nor expand upon the circumstances in which they lost custody of the suspects, who were murdered by residents of the district called Canape-Vert.
The violence had started before dawn, when gang members burst into several residential areas of the capital, looting homes and attacking residents, according to witnesses.
"It was the sound of projectiles that woke us up this morning. It was 3:00 am, the gangs invaded us. There were shots, shots," a resident of the neighboring district of Turgeau told AFP.
"If the gangs come to invade us, we will defend ourselves, we too have our own weapons, we have our machetes, we will take their weapons, we will not flee," said another resident.
"Mothers who want to protect their children can send them elsewhere," he added.
In fact, dozens of families left the neighborhoods caught in the spiral of violence on Monday, AFP journalists confirmed.
Men, women and children fled the scene on foot, carrying a few personal belongings in bags or bundles.
At least three other suspected gang members were killed and then burned midday, according to photos and videos that were shared online.
The latest grisly killings came as the United Nations released a report highlighting the surge in murders and kidnappings in the country.
Armed gangs "continued to compete to expand their territorial control throughout the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, spreading to previously unaffected neighborhoods," said the report, from Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
"With the high number of fatalities and increasing areas under the control of armed gangs, insecurity in the capital has reached levels comparable to countries in armed conflict," it added.
The number of reported homicides in Haiti rose in recent months by 21 percent, from 673 in the last quarter of 2022 to 815 between January 1 and March 31 this year.
The number of reported kidnappings soared by 63 percent, from 391 to 637.
"The people of Haiti continue to suffer one of the worst human rights crises in decades and a major humanitarian emergency," the report said.
Clashes among gangs and with police have "become more violent and more frequent," claiming many civilian lives, it added.
The human rights situation of people living in gang-controlled areas "remains appallingly poor" and conditions in areas newly targeted by gangs have "worsened significantly," according to the report.
The document highlighted the dire situation for residents of Cite Soleil, along the capital's waterfront, where snipers have shot passersby on the street from rooftops.
"The inhabitants feel besieged. They can no longer leave their homes for fear of armed violence and the terror imposed by the gangs," the UN humanitarian coordinator for Haiti said in a separate statement on Sunday.
Between April 14 and 19, clashes between rival gangs left nearly 70 people dead, including 18 women and at least two children, the statement added.
"I reiterate the urgent need for the deployment of an international specialized armed force," Guterres said in Monday's report.
Guterres in October relayed a call for help from Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, asking the Security Council to send assistance to help police restore order.
While some countries have indicated a willingness to participate, none have come forward to take the lead.