PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- As their two white armored cars push deep inside Haiti's largest slum, the Brazilian UN peacekeepers peer over their rifles for enemy gunmen amid spray-painted slogans saying "Down with the U.N."
But the graffiti seems to be contradicted by the smiles and waves from gaunt women and children fetching water with plastic buckets.
Two months ago, UN peacekeepers couldn't set foot in Cité Soleil without waging gunbattles with armed gangs who controlled the seaside slum by Haiti's capital.
"We used to take fire all the time," Lieutenant Jose Serrano told a reporter accompanying the patrol he was leading.
Now his unit has gone more than 60 days without taking fire, and Cité Soleil is enjoying its most tranquil period since a 2004 revolt ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and led to the deployment of 9,000 UN peacekeepers.
The reason for the quiet, says the United Nations, is its February offensive and the arrest of 400 suspected gang members, including several leaders wanted for a string of killings and kidnappings in Port-au-Prince.
The gangs, at least for now, are out of commission in Cité Soleil. A blue UN flag flies from a bullet-scarred school-turned-military base. A few days after Serrano's patrol passed through, UN special envoy Edmond Mulet made his second visit to the slum and painted over a gang mural of a Kalashnikov rifle as onlookers cheered.
When Serrano was first deployed to Haiti in December, gunmen would fire at the tires of his armored car. No resident dared speak to the soldiers for fear of being labeled an informer.
"Now they actually look forward to seeing us. It's better for them, better for us," he said.
Alfred Jean-Daniel, an unemployed 24-year-old who lives in a shack made of scrap metal, said, "If the gangs come back, that will only bring problems, and we don't need any more problems."
But the peacekeepers aren't letting their guard down. A radio crackles and the armored cars stop. The soldiers spill out onto a dusty, sunbaked alley and creep block by block in search of gunmen. All they get is grins and quizzical stares from onlookers.
The peacekeepers' problem is to distinguish gang members from unemployed youths hanging out on street corners. "The bandits are still here," Serrano said. "They didn't all leave. It makes our job hard because we don't know who is a bandit and who isn't."
It's the same difficulty US forces face in Iraq. Another Iraq parallel lies in the likelihood that if the peacekeepers leave too soon, the enemy will regain control.
"Previous experience has shown that if we leave too early, we have to come back again," Mulet said during his visit. "We'll stay here some time until everything is in place."
The UN mandate in Haiti expires in October, but the Security Council is expected to renew it. About 9,000 troops and civilian police officers from more than a dozen nations -- mostly Jordan, Brazil, Bolivia, Sri Lanka, Guatemala and Chile -- serve in the mission.