PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) - Haiti plans to start recruiting for a small, newly reformed army, the defense minister said on Tuesday, while critics questioned the need for such a force in a poor country with a history of military coups.
The government expects to recruit fewer than 500 soldiers, whose duties will include rebuilding after natural disasters and monitoring borders for smuggled contraband, Defense Minister Herve Denis told Reuters in an interview.
"I was planning to recruit 500 in the first recruitment but now, because of budget problems, we have to reduce the numbers," he said. "We are waiting on the vote on the budget to determine how many we will eventually recruit."
The vote is expected in the next few months.
Former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide disbanded Haiti's army in 1995 following a military coup.
Previous president Michel Martelly drafted a plan for a small military force in 2011. Calls from politicians for an expanded army have grown with the looming departure in October of a 13-year United Nations mission in Haiti intended to restore stability after a second coup against Aristide in 2004.
However, Haiti's budget is tight and critics say the government should focus its resources on the two decade-old national police force, which has roughly 15,000 officers.
"Haiti does not need an army," said Mario Joseph, a human rights attorney and one of Aristide's lawyers. "We must use what little money Haiti has rationally. ... Haiti cannot even take care of the police with the national budget."
Additional reporting and writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Paul Tait