France criticizes US aid role in Haiti

08:15, January 19, 2010      

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A senior French government official yesterday criticized the dominant role being played by the United States in earthquake devastated Haiti, complaining that Washington is nearly "occupying" the country, said a report filed by the Associated Press.

French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet said that the United Nations should investigate and clarify the dominant U.S. role in Haiti, 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. The plane landed the following day, the report said.

However, 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."

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, according to the AP report.

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 a political turmoil.

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