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Aid Flow to Haitians Improving

But looting, gang activity, scuffles continue to plague Port-au-Prince

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U.S. and U.N. officials say the flow of aid to destitute Haitian earthquake survivors is improving, despite continued looting, gang activity, and scuffles on the streets of Port-au-Prince.

U.S. helicopters are at work in Haiti, ferrying food and water to distribution points in and around the devastated capital, where three million people struggle to survive.

General Ken Keen, who is commanding U.S. military relief operations in Haiti, says logistical obstacles to aid delivery are being overcome.

"Every day, we increase our capabilities to reach out [to Haitians in need]," he said.

That assessment is shared by the U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes.

"What we are seeing is that the aid effort is beginning to scale up.  We are all frustrated by the fact that there is not as much aid on the streets as anybody would like, but I think you will see that effort scaling up very rapidly," he said.

General Keen says U.S. troops are working to assume more responsibility for aid distribution, which will allow U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti to focus on security concerns.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked the Security Council to boost the U.N. stabilization mission in Haiti by 3,500 troops and police officers, who would join 9,000 security personnel already there.

Port-au-Prince has seen looting, gang activity, street scuffles, and generalized chaos since last week's earthquake, which obliterated what little civilian authority Haitian officials exerted over the capital prior to the disaster.  Haitian police officers that remain on the streets have been overwhelmed by the lawlessness surrounding them, at times resorting to shooting in the air to try to restrain the populace.

Scuffles have also broken out around U.N. peacekeeping forces, which responded by rhythmically beating batons against their shields.

One bystander commented on the despair Haitians feel, and the actions it provokes.

"It is not their fault.  It is just that they are starving," said an unidentified Haitian man.  "People are hungry.  They do not have any place to stay.  They have nothing.  They are just hoping for something," he said.

Asked about the security situation in Port-au-Prince, U.S. General Ken Keen noted that gang activity and lawlessness existed in Haiti before the earthquake.  He said crime levels are actually lower than they were prior to the disaster.

Last week's earthquake damaged Port-au-Prince's airport and seaport.  The U.S. military has assumed control of air traffic control in and out of the capital, prompting complaints from some aid organizations and foreign officials.  

One French official [Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet] is quoted as saying international efforts are about "helping" Haiti, not "occupying" the country, inferring that the United States is assuming too much control over the operation.

Asked about the complaints, General Keen has this response:

"We [U.S. forces] are here at the request of the government of Haiti.  And we are working in partnership with the U.N. forces," he asserted.

Meanwhile, international aid pledges for Haiti continue to grow.  The European Union offered more than one-half-billion dollars in assistance and hundreds of millions more have been pledged by the United States and other nations.  Death toll estimates from the earthquake range from the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands.

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