PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The top U.N. official in Haiti vowed Sunday to crack down on gangs behind a kidnapping spree and other violence that threaten the latest attempt to hold elections, as the peacekeeping mission grappled with the apparent suicide of its military commander.
Haitian electoral authorities said they will propose a new election date of Feb. 7, with a runoff if needed on March 19. The voting, repeatedly delayed because of organizational and security problems, aims to restore democracy to this Caribbean nation two years after a revolt ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Juan Gabriel Valdes, the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, pledged a tough response to a wave of kidnappings carried out by slum gangs allegedly loyal to Aristide.
"We are planning other attacks on kidnappers and we are going to resist this process of destabilization," he said. "We are not going to allow any attempt to derail the electoral process."
U.N. police continued investigating the death of Lt. Gen. Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar, a Brazilian who commanded 7,400 U.N. troops. His body was found Saturday on the balcony of his hotel room at the upscale Hotel Montana in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
A delegation of Brazilian officials arrived in Haiti to monitor the U.N. police investigation into Bacellar's death.
A senior U.N. official confirmed to the AP that Bacellar suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information to the press.
Valdes and other U.N. officials said they would not discuss details of the case until the investigation is completed.
Meanwhile, Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council agreed to a first round of voting on Feb. 7 and a possible second round on March 19, Rosemond Pradel, secretary general of the council, told The Associated Press.
The council sent its recommendation to interim President Boniface Alexandre, who must approve the new dates.
"The people and the candidates want to have the elections and we are ready," Pradel said.
But Patrick Fequiere, an electoral council member, said he still doubts election materials can be distributed throughout this impoverished country of 8 million people by Feb. 7, which could allow the results to be disputed.
"It is clear that this new date is in response to increasing international pressure," Fequiere said. The U.N. Security Council and the Organization of American States have urged Haiti's transitional government to hold elections by Feb. 7, the date when the new government initially was to take office.
Difficulties in distributing voter registration cards and setting up polling stations contributed to the balloting delays. There are 35 presidential candidates and hundreds more for 129 legislative seats.