Haitian authorities conceded yesterday they had lost their battle to maintain order in Port-au-Prince after gang leaders who escaped when the national prison collapsed in last week's earthquake reclaimed their old turf.
Residents say people have been killed and several women raped in a turf war between gangsters nicknamed "Belony" and "Bled".
The gangsters have stepped into the law-and-order vacuum, notably in the sprawling shanty town of Cite Soleil, which they dominated before being locked up after police operations supported by United Nations troops over the past three years.
The Haitian authorities, already reliant on UN forces, are now crippled by heavy casualties and widespread destruction of infrastructure.
Ten Brazilian peacekeepers were killed when a key local UN checkpoint at the entrance to Cite Soleil, known as the 'Blue House', collapsed.
The UN also lost its chief, deputy chief and acting police commander in the earthquake, creating a dangerous leadership vacuum at a time when international peacekeepers have committed their diminished forces to aiding survivors.
Police morale and strength have been severely reduced by the loss of experienced officers who were killed or injured -- leaving recently trained recruits to hold the line.
Dorsainvil Robenson, a police officer, said: "We do not have the capacity to fix this situation. Haiti needs help.
Haiti's police have effectively given up and appealed to vigilantes to take the law into their own hands.
"If you don't kill the criminals, they will all come back," officers announce over loudspeakers from heavily armed checkpoints in the slum area.
"The trouble is starting," said Jean-Semaine Delice, a 51-year-old father.
As escaped gangsters from the city's notorious main penitentiary attempt to regain control of the sprawling Cite Soleil slum, some neighbourhoods are creating their own security forces -- forming night brigades and machete-armed mobs to fight bandits.
"We never count on the government here, never," said 29-year-old Tatony Vieux in a hillside district where people used cars to block access to their street.
In a separate move yesterday, the UN Security Council (UNSC) agreed to boost the number of UN troops and police in Haiti by 3,500 to help restore order.
The full potential strength of the United Nations' Haiti force, known as MINUSTAH, will rise to 12,651, up from the current level of around 9,000.
- Bruno Waterfield in Port-Au-Prince