Dominican Republic intensifies Haiti border shutdown over canal row

(Reuters) – The Dominican Republic announced new measures to strengthen control at its border with Haiti, including an indefinite extension of the border shutdown it enacted last month plus boosting military forces as well as a new exports ban.

The Dominican Republic sealed its border with Haiti last month citing the construction of a canal from the Massacre River, which straddles the border between the two countries, arguing this violated a treaty.

Haiti’s government responded saying it backed its citizens’ rights to the equitable use of shared waters and continued to favor dialogue.

Last week, Dominican President Luis Abinader, who is seeking re-election next year, said a decommissioned canal on the Dominican side was ready to restart and that planning continued for construction of two dams off the shared river.

The Organization of American States has called for a resumption of dialogue.

Under the new measures, exports of electronics, cement and other building materials will be banned to prevent construction of structures that threaten the river or related resources.

The government said it would also launch “provisional commercial corridors” in border provinces to facilitate trade, under strict military controls, of Dominican products such as food and medicine.

Santo Domingo said it would also indefinitely extend suspension of visa issuances to Haitian citizens, and create a fund to finance an agricultural program to reduce hiring of undocumented immigrant workers.

The new measures will take effect on Wednesday.

The Dominican Republic has deported tens of thousands of Haitian migrants who have fled escalating gang warfare in their own country, drawing international criticisms.

The parliament in Kenya – which has offered to lead a U.N.-backed international force requested by Haiti’s government a year ago – temporarily barred a deployment of 1,000 police officers to the Caribbean nation.

(Reporting by Paul Mathiasen and Valentine Hilaire; Writing by Sarah Morland; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Lincoln Feast)