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January 18, 2010

Paris Club Urges Donors to Forgive Haiti Debts

by Lisa Bryant

The Paris Club of creditor nations is urging donors to forgive debts Haiti owes them and said it is speeding up its own process of debt relief to the battered country.

The Paris Club decided in July to forgive nearly $63 million of Haiti debt.  The group said it is speeding up that debt relief process and urged donor nations that are not part of the club to forgive what Haiti owes them.  

The Paris club has also agreed to cancel another $152 million owed by Haiti on a bilateral, voluntary basis.

Haiti's two top creditors outside the Paris Club are Venezuela and Taiwan.  French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde called for the two countries last week to forgive Haiti's debt.

The club's announcement is the latest of mounting promises to help Haiti get back on its feet after last week's devastating earthquake.  Experts estimate the earthquake killed and injured tens of thousands of people.

But relief has been slow to reach many needy Haitians, because of looting and logistical logjams - and because of the sheer number of people needing help.

Monday, French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet criticized the U.S. handling of aid to Haiti.

Joyandet told French radio that Washington was giving priority to its flights in and out of Haiti, instead of aid flights from other nations.  He said the international effort should be about helping Haiti, not occupying it.

But French President Nicolas Sarkozy praised the American aid effort, calling it "exceptional."  A U.N. official says the United States agrees that aid flights will get top priority.