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Haiti Foreign Minister Says Country on Edge of Crisis


The U.N. Security Council has appealed to international donors to renew their commitment to Haiti as the flood-ravaged Caribbean nation prepares for elections later this year. The western hemisphere's poorest nation was the subject of a daylong Council debate.

At a moment when world attention is focused on Asia's tsunami tragedy, Haitian leaders are warning that their country is in danger of slipping back into crisis.

Last year, after a rebellion overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and floods killed thousands of people, donors pledged more than one billion dollars in economic assistance. But less than one-fifth of that total has been disbursed.

Addressing the U.N. Security Council Wednesday, Haiti's foreign minister Yvon Simeon urged donors to remember the pledges they made last year. He said Haiti's status as the poorest nation in the Americas was the product of 200 years of dictatorial misrule.

"After two centuries of ineffective political and economic management, the republic of Haiti today is at the edge of the abyss,” he said. “The situation in terms of abject poverty and misery has reached alarming proportions in terms of the socio-economic infrastructures, which are in a very advanced state of decay."

On the eve of the Security Council meeting, the World Bank announced it had approved $73 million in grants and loans to Haiti. In addition, the United States, Canada and the European Union this week pledged $41 million to help in preparation for elections later this year.

Luigi Einaudi, acting director general of the Organization of American States told the Council Wednesday more than money will be needed to create a system to register four and a half million Haitian voters.

"This will not be easy,” he said. “There are problems of infrastructure, of security, of voter education that will need to be handled. And let me simply say this is a critical moment."

The Security Council authorized a 7,000-strong peacekeeping force to help control widespread violence last year after President Aristide's ouster. Although the force, known as MINUSTAH, is far short of its authorized strength, U.N. special envoy to Haiti Juan Gabriel Valdez said its presence is contributing to a new sense of security in parts of Haiti.

"We are not saying security threats have ceased or that the security agents have been disarmed,” he noted. “We are not saying there are no threats in the future. What we are saying is that as a result of recent operations carried out by MINUSTAH we have a visible progress and we are seeing a situation in which we don't see possibilities for attempts to destabilize society or the government."

Several ranking Latin American and Caribbean diplomats joined in Wednesday's appeal for Haiti. Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said at a time when world attention is focused on tsunami victims, it is important to recall the scope of Haiti's tragedy.

"Haiti has suffered socio-economic tsunami for the last 200 years,” he explained. “And only in the last year there were about 30,000 children who died in Haiti, so that in itself is as big as for many countries in the tsunami."

A statement approved at the end of Wednesday's meeting reaffirmed the Security Council's long-term commitment to Haiti. Previous short-term U.N. efforts to stabilize the country were deemed failures. Diplomats say they expect the Haiti peacekeeping force will be needed to maintain order in the country for at least 20 years.

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