Montreal readies for Haiti conference


Montreal, with its diaspora of 100,000 plus Haitians, will tomorrow host international talks on rebuilding the country as well as assisting short-term aid efforts.

Donor countries hold emergency talks in Montreal, Canada on Monday to map out plans to rebuild Haiti and sharpen aid efforts for millions of people in the quake-hit country.

The United States, Canada, France, Brazil and other donors with interests in Haiti will attempt to craft long-term strategies to lift the crippled Caribbean nation out of disaster and onto a path to recovery.

Haiti's Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive is also expected to attend the closed-door talks.

"We are not going to rebuild Haiti as it was," a French official told AFP, referring to the country's chronic poverty, neglected agricultural base and history of political corruption and upheaval.

"We need to address structural problems, not just financial matters but those of governance and regional cooperation," the official said. "There is no use (at this point) in making five different assessments of the damage."

The January 12 earthquake leveled the capital Port-au-Prince and destroyed or disabled Haiti's government offices, roads and communications infrastructure. The devastation killed more than 112,000 people and left more than half a million others homeless, sparking an unprecedented global relief effort led by the United States.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner will be in Montreal for the talks, which are hosted by their Canadian counterpart, Lawrence Cannon.

Cannon and Clinton spoke by phone on Friday about how international partners, aid agencies and the United Nations could ramp up the delivery of food, medical supplies and other necessities.

Host of countries expected in city

The Montreal meeting is expected to bring together Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Spain and Uruguay along with officials from the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia - countries that have criticized the presence US troops on Haiti soil - are not expected to participate.

France initially hit out at the United States accusing it of high-handedness when US troops took over control of Port-au-Prince's damaged airport, but tensions were soon squelched as the rescue and recovery efforts kicked into high gear.

With the search and rescue phase of the relief effort now all but over, attention is focused on how to keep up a global humanitarian momentum aimed at reviving the battered nation.

'We won't bypass Haiti': French

"We are not going to take Haiti's place. We will not bypass it... But at the same time, it needs help," the French official said.

The European Union, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and several non-governmental organizations will also be at the Montreal gathering.

The talks are expected to lay the groundwork for a fully-fledged donors conference on Haiti in the coming weeks.

Monday's event will give Washington the chance to reaffirm its role as Haiti's leading financial and humanitarian benefactor.

The Canadian government, currently unpopular in the polls over its decision to prorogue parliament, is keen to demonstrate its heightened role in helping to coordinate the global response.

Many scholars and artists from Haiti live in Canada, and the country's Governor General Michaelle Jean was born in the island nation.

The city of Montreal is affectionately described as Haiti's second capital, having a Haitian diaspora of more than 100,000.

Source: AFP