French minister criticizes US aid role in Haiti

The United Nations must investigate and clarify the dominant U.S. role in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, a French minister said Monday, claiming that international aid efforts were about helping Haiti, not "occupying" it.

U.S. forces last week turned back a French aid plane carrying a field hospital from the damaged, congested airport in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, prompting a complaint from French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet. The plane landed safely the following day.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned governments and aid groups not to squabble as they try to get their aid into Haiti.

"People always want it to be their plane ... that lands," Kouchner said Monday. "(But) what's important is the fate of the Haitians."

U.S. Marines arrive at a camp near Cite Soleil January 18, 2010. U.S. troops protected aid handouts and the United Nations sought extra peacekeepers in earthquake-shattered Haiti

But Joyandet persisted.

"This is about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti," Joyandet, in Brussels for an EU meeting on Haiti, said on French radio.

In another weekend incident, 250 Americans were flown to New Jersey's McGuire Air Force Base on three military planes from Haiti. U.S. forces initially blocked French and Canadians nationals from boarding the planes, but the cordon was lifted after protests from French and Canadian officials.

The U.S. military controls the Port-au-Prince airport where only one runway is functioning and has been effectively running aid operations. However, the United Nations is taking the lead in the critical task of coordinating aid.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday the U.S. government had no intention of taking power from Haitian officials. "We are working to back them up, but not to supplant them," she said.

Joyandet said he expects a U.N. decision on how governments should work together in Haiti and that he hopes "things will be clarified concerning the role of the United States."

Other French officials sought to calm diplomatic tensions over aid. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero insisted the plane incidents were "minor problems" to be expected during such a difficult relief mission and said that Kouchner and Clinton have been working since the quake on coordinating help.

Both nations have occupied Haiti in the past.

France occupied Haiti for more than 100 years, from 1697 to independence in 1804 after the world's first successful slave uprising. More recently, U.S. Marines occupied the country from 1915 to 1934 to quiet political turmoil.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he intends to travel to Haiti "in the weeks to come," though no date has been set. Former Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin has cautioned that Sarkozy shouldn't go too soon because it could divert attention from aid efforts.

U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said, "Clearly it can be a problem if every leader in the world wants to turn up. It will inevitably cause problems, particularly for the leadership of these operations, although not, of course, for the humanitarian workers on the ground."

source AFP

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