French Minister Slams U.S. Role in Haiti

People gestures as a U.S. helicopter makes a water drop near a country club used as a forward operating base for the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010. Relief groups and officials are focused on moving aid flowing into Haiti to survivors of the powerful earthquake that hit the country on Tuesday. AP

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.

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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, some 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 has stepped forward to take 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.

"The U.N. is working on it," Joyandet said, adding that he hopes "things will be clarified concerning the role of the United States."

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.


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