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Group urges cancellation of Haiti debt; U.N. to beef up troops

A week after a 7.0 earthquake, U.S. troops spread throughout the capital, and the U.N. Security Council votes to send more forces. The Paris Club asks creditors to forgive the nation's debt.

January 19, 2010|By Joe Mozingo and Ken Ellingwood

Reporting from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, and Mexico City -- U.S. forces fanned out in Haiti's ruined capital today as part of a building global relief effort that still had yet to reach hundreds of thousands of needy residents a week after the devastating 7.0 earthquake.

In Port-au-Prince, aid workers, supplies and U.S. troops continued to flow in in increasing numbers. A number of U.S. military helicopters touched down on the grounds of the damaged presidential palace this morning, dropping off more than 100 U.S. troops, according to wire-service reports.

Meanwhile, the world's relief effort included a call this morning by the Paris Club of international creditors for wealthy nations to cancel debts owed by Haiti so that it can rebuild. And in New York, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution to raise its own cap on the size of its peacekeeping mission in Haiti, increasing the number of troops by 2,000 and police officers by 1,500.

In Haiti's capital, U.S. troops, in full combat gear, unloaded boxes of water bottles and food rations and appeared to be setting up a base at the palace, Reuters reported.

Haitians crowded the fence of the compound to watch, and some cheered as soldiers arrived, news reports said.

Several thousand more soldiers and Marines began arriving on Monday as part of a U.S. mobilization that involved more than 10,000 troops. They will provide food and water and will work to repair the badly damaged seaport to permit the delivery of larger quantities of goods. Troops also were standing by to help provide security amid scattered reports of looting and gunfire in the capital.

U.S. forces already are running the city's airport, which has been the main portal for thousands of tons of emergency supplies and rescuers.

Offshore, a growing flotilla of U.S. vessels serves as a floating military base and airport for aircraft delivering goods. Some injured Haitians also have been airlifted to the ships for emergency medical treatment.

The Paris Club, an informal grouping of creditor governments from industrialized countries that meets monthly in Paris, said members agreed in July to cancel debts that at the time totaled $214 million. Today, it called on other creditors to follow suit.

"Considering the financing needs that Haiti will face in reconstructing the country, Paris Club creditors call upon other bilateral creditors also to urgently provide full debt cancellation to Haiti," the group said in a statement.

The group estimated that Haiti's total public external debt stood at nearly $1.9 billion in September 2008.

The U.N.'s decision today to raise the cap on the size of its peacekeeping mission in Haiti brings the total U.N. force to 8,940 troops and 3,711 police officers on the ground to deal with the disaster. What is unclear is how soon the additional troops and officers will get there.

Radio Metropole, citing Haitian government officials, reported today that the bodies of 70,000 quake victims had been buried so far.

The Haitian government has mobilized as well as it could to remove the dead, clear debris and move survivors to the provinces to relieve pressure on the relief effort. On Monday, public buses traveled the road west out of Port-au-Prince filled with people and luggage heading out of town.

The government, weak in the best of circumstances, was trying to function from a yard outside a police station near the airport. Many government buildings in the center of the city -- including the National Palace, Parliament, the health and foreign ministries and Port-au-Prince city hall -- were destroyed.

Looters pilfered from a wholesale food market on the Grand Rue downtown Monday afternoon. U.N. and Haitian police tried to stop them, to no avail.

"The population was throwing stones at us to stop us from preventing the looting," said Gabriel Diallo, a United Nations officer from Guinea. "They said we can't stop them from looting the food because they were hungry."

The looters then burned down the store, sending a black cloud into the air that added one more dystopian element to the scene.

As the police stood by a block away, two gunshots rang out from the main street.

On Monday, the 82nd Airborne carried out its first air drop of food and water in Port-au-Prince. A C-17 cargo plane dropped 40 pallets of water and packaged military meals at a secured drop zone in the city, said Maj. Brian Fickel, a spokesman for the division at Ft. Bragg, N.C.

The food and water were wrapped in canvas and attached to parachutes for the drop. The delivery had to be made away from crowds to avoid injuries, Fickel said. The pallets contained 14,000 gallons of bottled water and 15,000 meals.

The Navy stopped doing food drops from helicopters over the weekend because of the chaos it was creating with no security on the ground.

In the suburb of Carrefour on Monday, people gathered in a field where the Navy had done four food drops over the weekend. At 2 p.m., a helicopter circled and then left.

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