As U.S. troops prepare to transfer authority to the United Nations this week, a wave of homicides is stirring fears of a new round of political violence.

In the notorious Port-au-Prince slums of Cite Soleil, U.S. soldiers and Haitian police investigated more than a dozen murders in the past few weeks."Things really started to pick up in the past week or two," said Lt. Daniel Engel, an Army policeman. He shrugged as he glanced at a map studded with push pins that mark homicides and other crimes. "It all seems random; there's no real pattern to it."

But many politicians and business leaders see a political connection to much of the violence, particularly with crucial parliamentary campaigns just beginning. Many fear that anti-democratic forces, who are known to hold thousands of guns distributed in the waning days of Haiti's military rule, have fostered the crime spree in a bid to disrupt the June 4 balloting.

"You must remember who has the weapons in Haiti," said Necker Dessables, head of the Justice and Peace Commission, a human rights group funded by the Catholic Church. "It's those who don't want free elections."

Supporters of the former military government, however, attribute the violence to simple lawlessness and blame the weak authority of the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

"This restaurant closed because it was no longer safe on the streets," said one, speaking on condition of anonymity, from a darkened cafe in a wealthy Port-au-Prince suburb.

U.S. officials also discount a political connection to most of the crime, pointing out that a third of the recent killings came at the hands of angry mobs punishing thieves. "It looks as if political crime has been replaced by economic crimes in Haiti," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Stanley Schrager.

But a spokesman for Aristide's government, Yvon Neptune, said former military backers and their thugs had encouraged the lawlessness.

"The climate of violence that is creeping into the life of the country has a definite political origin," he said.

The situation is the same as past political seasons, one politician said. "We saw violence in 1987, we saw it in 1990, and we're seeing it now," said Gerard Jean-Juste, a Haitian minister helping to organize one of the country's political parties.

In a recent week in March, more than 30 people were killed in Haiti, greater than the total for all of January or February.

Amid the rising violence, the country now faces the transfer of authority from U.S. troops to the United Nations.

Last week, nearly 1,000 troops from Canada and Pakistan arrived as part of 3,600 pledged by three dozen countries, including Bangladesh and Caribbean nations. They will work to keep the peace in Haiti for the next year, alongside about 2,400 U.S. soldiers who will remain from the force of 20,000 that came ashore last September.

They'll be joined by 900 international police and several thousand unarmed Haitian troops, all that remain from an abusive Haitian military methodically disbanded after the U.S. intervention.

U.S. officials consider the intervention a resounding success. President Clinton will make his first trip to Haiti on Friday to congratulate the troops and celebrate the transfer to U.N. control.

He'll also celebrate the return of democracy to Haiti in the person of Aristide, a former parish priest whose 1991 ouster in a military coup led to the showdown with the United States.

The June parliamentary elections are seen as a major test for sustainable democracy in Haiti, which has stumbled through 200 years of military regimes.

"It is simple: There cannot be fair elections if the people do not feel secure," Dessables said. "We already see increased crime. Now we are left to wonder what will happen under the United Nations."

He and others fear the United Nations will command less respect than the U.S. military and patrol less aggressively.

"The United States commands great respect in Haiti," said Jeffrey Blatt, an American businessman who operates a garment factory here. "I'm not sure the same will be true for troops from Pakistan or Bangladesh."

U.N. officials, however, said they'll be at least as assertive as the U.S. forces, particularly in the countryside, said Neptune. The United States distributed only token forces in Haiti's rural areas, home to 60 percent of its people.

In anticipation of the U.N. takeover, troops at the Cite Soleil police station have painted their vehicles white. They'll soon apply U.N. symbols and don the world organization's blue helmets, replacing the green fatigues of the United States.

While the recent rash of shootings, knifings and machete deaths is cause for concern, crime here remains a fraction of that in any major American city, U.S. officials said.

If anything, it's a wonder that Haiti has not suffered more lawlessness after its police force largely disappeared from the streets, said Schrager, the embassy spokesman. He discounted fears that the violence foreshadows a political uprising against Haiti's fledgling democracy.

"There clearly have been some political hits," he said, "but they've been isolated."

The key, he said, is to get a new civilian police force deployed throughout Haiti as soon as possible.

That's the charge of U.S. and other foreign instructors hurriedly training hundreds of raw Haitian recruits.

Adding to the tensions, thousands of victims of the recent military junta find themselves living among their assailants, without a working court system to administer justice.

Seeking justice for past crimes went beyond the mandate of the American troops, whose mission minimized the "nation building" so roundly discredited by a bad experience in Somalia.

"The Americans have done much to help the people of Haiti," said Claudette Bienaime, a 35-year-old businesswoman. "But they aren't willing to punish the wrongdoers, or even to take their weapons."

Some go further in their criticism. At a recent congress, Haitian peasant groups in the countryside passed a resolution accusing the United States of protecting the friends of the former military.

Schrager denied that the United States sought to shield Haiti's former oppressors. And he said the U.S. military could not be expected to sort through the conflicting claims of Haitian politics to administer justice for past wrongs.

"The Haitians must administer their own justice," he said.