Sarkozy in Haiti to survey damage

France has pledged $27m in aid to Haiti and is due to cancel its debt to Paris of $77m.

     Sarkozy's visit is the first by a French president to the former French slave colony in the Caribbean [AFP]

    According to Sarkozy's office, the French president will offer a "very significant" amount of direct aid to Haiti and cancel its debt to Paris of $77 million, his office said.

    'New era'

    Al Jazeera's Steve Chao, reporting from the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, said that French officials hoped that the visit "will summon a new era between France and its former colony,

    special report
    Special Report: Haiti earthquake
    "Sarkozy and his people are very much cognisant of the fact that Haitians hold a lot of suspicion and resentment over its former brutal years of slavery as a colony and over feelings that France has continued to meddle in politics on this island in more recent years," he said.

    "So on the front of trying to mend ties, Sarkozy is expected to confirm that France will write off the $77m debt that Haiti has toward France.

    "And he is expected to announce an aid package that will be aimed at trying to help this government rebuild its infrastructure."

    During his stay, Sarkozy was scheduled to survey the devastated Haitian capital and other affected areas by helicopter, and was also to visit a French-run field hospital.

    He was also due to meet Haiti's leaders to offer France's financial support for a plan for post-quake recovery and reconstruction that is being put together by foreign donors with the Haitian government.

    Economists from the Inter-American Development Bank have estimated the cost of rebuilding Haiti after the quake, which killed more than 200,000 people and left more than one million homeless, could reach nearly $14 billion, making it proportionately the most destructive natural disaster in modern times.

    Besides providing immediate emergency aid to the hurt and homeless from the quake, international donors are looking to support Haiti's long-term recovery to try to pull the country out of a cycle of poverty and political instability.

    While aid workers rush to distribute tarpaulins before the rainy season starts, the United Nations says only about 272,000 people have been provided with shelter materials so far.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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