PORT-AU-PRINCE - Haiti's police chief said Thursday that bandits were preying on vulnerable earthquake survivors, even raping women, in makeshift camps set up in the capital after the disaster.
"With the blackout that's befallen the Haitian capital, bandits are taking advantage to harass and rape women and young girls under the tents," national police chief Mario Andresol told reporters.
"We have more than 7,000 detainees in the streets who escaped from the National Penitentiary the evening of the earthquake... It took us five years to apprehend them. Today they are running wild."
Figures for the number of crimes were not available but women's organizations have already detailed a number of cases and alerted the United Nations mission in Haiti, Andresol said.
His warning came a day after UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said that gangsters and child traffickers could try to exploit the chaos triggered by Haiti's devastating earthquake to step up their criminal activities.
The January 12 earthquake killed around 170,000 people and left more than a million others homeless, many of whom are living in makeshift camps in the ruined capital.
Security was tenuous in Haiti before the 7.0-magnitude quake, but Andresol said the police force itself had been crippled by the disaster.
Andresol said the Haitian police force had only 8,000 members before the quake and that many of them were now dead or missing, adding that a large number of the remaining officers were demoralized or traumatized.
"We lost 70 police officers, nearly 500 are still missing and 400 were wounded," he said at a temporary office standing in for the capital's police headquarters, which collapsed in the quake.
The chaos left by the quake has also raised fears that vulnerable children could fall prey to human traffickers. The UN said last week that a number have gone missing from hospitals in Haiti.
The US State Department said Thursday that it was working with Haiti's government on efforts to crack down on trafficking.
It was "actively involved in addressing the potential for trafficking in persons, particularly children, in post-earthquake Haiti," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a statement.