PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - One of Haiti's most powerful gang leaders said he would be willing to surrender if U.N. peacekeepers guarantee his safety.
Armed gang members controlled by the man known as General Toutou are believed to be behind many of the kidnappings and killings that have added to the instability in Haiti as the country prepares for fall elections to replace the interim government.
Toutou, in an interview Friday with The Associated Press, said he has begun talks on a possible surrender with the U.N. peacekeeping mission that came to Haiti to restore order following the ouster of the country's first freely elected leader, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in February 2004.
"If the (U.N. mission) is ready to guarantee our security, we'd be ready to give up the fight," said Toutou, whose real name is unknown.
A U.N. official declined to discuss any possible deal to guarantee the Toutou's safety, but said the peacekeeping mission was negotiating with gangs in Bel-Air, the sprawling slum where the gang leader commands a well-armed force of street fighters.
"A window of opportunity is opening for us to reduce violence ahead of the elections," said Desmond Molloy, head of the U.N. disarmament program in Haiti.
Haitian authorities have accused Toutou of involvement in the slaying in July of a prominent journalist, Jacques Roche, along with dozens of other killings and kidnappings, and any deal could not include amnesty, said Judicial Police Chief Michael Lucius said.
"The best I can guarantee is that he will not be hurt in prison if he surrenders," said Lucius, who added that Toutou's offer suggests that his power has weakened.
Toutou, 28, denied any connection to the death of Roche, whose killing prompted widespread outrage and was blamed on supporters of Aristide.
"I swear I have nothing to do with the death of Jacques Roche," Toutou said.
Authorities have said Roche's death is part of a campaign by supporters Aristide to force the government into allowing the ousted leader to return to Haiti from exile in South Africa.
Toutou also said he would do nothing to prevent people from participating in the fall elections, pointing out that the U.N. has not been prevented from operating two voter registration centers in Bel-Air ? home to about 300,000 people.