Dominican Republic to seal Dajabon border with Haiti in canal dispute

FILE PHOTO: Dominican Republic steps up Haitian deportations, raising tensions

SANTO DOMINGO/PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) -The Dominican Republic will seal its border with Haiti in its northern Dajabon province if a conflict over access to water from a shared river is not resolved in the coming days, a government spokesperson said on Monday.

Speaking at a press conference later in the day, the Dominican president insisted a final decision on the possible border closure would not come until Thursday.

Dajabon is one of the few remaining functioning borders between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which has been tightening its border security amid worsening gang warfare in Haiti.

The Dominican Republic will completely close off the border to land, maritime and air commerce if the conflict is not resolved by Thursday, Dominican authorities said in a statement earlier on Monday, adding new visas for Haitians would also be suspended.

Construction work on a canal diverting water from the Massacre River was launched unilaterally by Haitians without government support, the statement said, accusing its neighbor of a treaty violation.

The Dominican government statement pinned blame for the conflict on Haitian authorities inability to reign in powerful gangs it cannot control, citing Port-au-Prince's own admissions.

"There is no doubt that this unilateral project is promoted by Haitian agents with the intention of harming their own government and generating a conflict with our country," the statement added.

The Haitian government has not officially commented on the Dominican government statement.

Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader lamented that Haitian officials cannot make enforcible decisions, while stressing that his country's military will ensure security at the border.

"The border is reinforced and it will be reinforced even more," he said, adding Dominican officials will not negotiate with Haitian gangs.

Santo Domingo, which first ordered the border closure in a preliminary move last week, said it will seek talks with Haiti to find a "definitive solution."

The U.S. Embassy in Haiti late last month urged citizens to leave "as soon as possible" citing security and infrastructure challenges, while the United Nations says the escalating gang turf war has displaced around 200,000 people and left some 5.2 million - half the population - in need of humanitarian aid.

(Reporting by Paul Mathiasen in Santo Domingo and Harold Isaac in Port-au-Prince; Writing by Sarah Morland; Editing by Valentine Hilaire, Grant McCool and Lincoln Feast)