Jamaica attacks British `disaster'

Montserrat crisis: Island leaders call for package to help people remain on island

The Jamaican Prime Minister, PJ Patterson, yesterday joined Montserrat's Chief Minister David Brandt in slamming Britain for what they said was a slow response to Montserrat's volcano disaster.

Chairing a meeting of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) in Antigua, Mr Patterson said: "Let us hope this will be part of a learning curve on how not to respond to disasters. I would hope that their [the British government's] response in the future will be more substantial and immediate than over the past two years."

Despite statements in London that Clare Short had not been sidelined, the decision to create a new decision-making group was widely interpreted as such in the Caribbean, and welcomed.

When British reporters broke the news to Mr Brandt on Monday, he smiled broadly and said: "That's very good news. With that news, I am much more optimistic about the future rebuilding of our island.

"When I was in London recently, I found Mr [Robin] Cook and Baroness Symons [the Foreign Office minister responsible for the Caribbean] quite caring and understanding. When Baroness Symons came to Montserrat, she was so touched by the conditions at the hospital that she got money committed immediately. Ms Short stopped that," he claimed.

Both Mr Patterson and Mr Brandt attacked a British government's "voluntary repatriation package" which offers cash to Montserratians who opt to move to other Caribbean islands. They described it as an inducement for the remaining 4,000 or so islanders to leave despite the fact that the northern part of the island was believed to be safe and could be developed.

Both suggested Britain offer a package to those who opt to stay, to help them rebuild their lives. "Giving a package to those who leave is inducing them to leave," said Mr Brandt, a lawyer and legislator named by Governor Frank Savage last week. "They should give a package to those who stay. They [the British government] are creating a condition of misery so that people would want to choose between misery and the unknown."

Mr Patterson said: "There is no justification at all for a total evacuation of the island. It seems to me that the case for a restoration of the island is compelling indeed. It is a matter that lies primarily with the United Kingdom."

Only a trickle of people on Montserrat have taken up the offer to leave, with many waiting to see whether Britain will make good its pledge to make infrastructure developments in the unaffected north of the island, including the building of 250 homes.

The international development minister, George Foulkes, will visit Montserrat this weekend, it was confirmed last night. The trip had been in doubt after the island's chief minister suggested he might not be welcome. However, a decision that he should go after all was taken after David Brandt softened his stance and said that he would be glad to see any English minister on the island. The MP Bernie Grant is also to visit the island.

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