Don't cut off aid, warns Haiti PM

Dispute over relief effort follows Italian criticism of 'pathetic' US coordination

Haiti's government is ready to lead the relief and reconstruction effort after the devastating earthquake which killed as many as 200,000 people and left an estimated 1.5 million homeless.

Speaking at a conference on the tragedy in Montreal yesterday, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, said: "Haitians continue to work in precarious conditions but it is in the position to assume the leadership expected of it by its people in order to relaunch the country on the path to reconstruction," Mr Bellerive said.

But with squabbles breaking out between some countries on the effectiveness of the relief effort so far, Mr Bellerive nonetheless insisted that his country will continue to need "massive" assistance in the wake of the 7.0-magnitude quake which struck two weeks ago.

He said Haiti needed the world to stick with it for at least five to 10 years.

Foreign and overseas aid ministers gathered for the one-day meeting billed as a first step towards generating an international blueprint for long-term recovery for Haiti. The aid effort has been momentous in scope, not least on the part of the United States, yet difficulties with distribution and coordination have meant that aid still has not reached many survivors.

Even as the Montreal meeting was starting, Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, found himself mending a diplomatic rift after a cabinet colleague dispatched to Haiti spoke disparagingly of the relief effort in general and of the role played by the US military. Guido Bertolaso, the civil protection minister, said that the US intervention had been "pathetic".

"We very much appreciate the American leadership of all this," Mr Frattini countered during a visit to Washington. "Mr Bertolaso ... has attacked American and international organisations head on. The Italian government does not share these statements," he added.

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, said on her way to Montreal that the military has been vital to the first response in Haiti. The United States currently has roughly 13,000 pairs of boots either in the country or just offshore. "What we see is an enormously committed and effective international effort that could not succeed without additional military assets," she said. "It's just easier for the United States to get there first because Haiti is our neighbour."

The remarks by Mr Bertolaso will inevitably have left Washington rankled. Of the American military presence, he said: "It's a truly powerful show of force, but it's completely out of touch with reality. They don't have close rapport with the territory and they certainly don't have a rapport with international organisations and aid groups."

Singling out former US President, Bill Clinton, for arriving in Haiti, helping with handing out clean water and then leaving again, Mr Bertolaso accused some organisations of "putting on a vanity show for the television cameras instead of rolling up their sleeves".

He went on: "Unfortunately there's this need to make a bella figura in front of the television cameras rather than focusing on underneath the debris."

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