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Powell Promises Continued Economic Assistance for Haiti - 2004-05-05

Secretary of State Colin Powell Wednesday promised continuing U.S. economic help for Haiti after hearing an appeal from the country's interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue. The Haitian official said the political violence there earlier this year nearly destroyed the impoverished country's economic infrastructure.

The United States has committed some $20 million in new aid to Haiti to support peacekeeping, emergency relief programs and democracy-building since the political upheaval that forced former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power two months ago.

However, Mr. Powell said that he will scour the State Department for possible additional funding after hearing from Mr. Latortue, who is on a three-day visit to Washington to try to drum up support in the U.S. Congress and international lending institutions for Haitian reconstruction.

At a joint press appearance with the Secretary of State, Mr. Latortue said that Haitian authorities are trying to rebuild democratic governance in the country even as they deal with the economic damage wrought by the recent violence.

?Haiti just went through very, very difficult times, where the entire economic infrastructure has been almost destroyed,? he said. ?We are trying to rebuild confidence into the country. We are trying to bring good economic governance, and we are trying also to bring democracy. Yesterday, before leaving Haiti, we have installed a new electoral council, and we hope the council will start working so elections will take place in 2005, and a new government will be installed and transfer of power will be done by the latest, on February 7th, 2006.?

For his part, Mr. Powell made no specific new aid commitments, but said Haiti is in great need of financial support and that the Bush administration is actively examining what else it can do.

?For the moment, we're looking at all the accounts that are available to us in the [State] department, to see what we might be able to transfer into support for Haiti,? Mr. Powell said. ?We're looking at our counter-narcotics accounts and really, really scrubbing the department. And of course, once we have a better understanding of the overall need, we'll put it into the normal budgeting process. We are looking hard, and looking at other departments as well for what they are able to do.?

Officials here said the secretary and the interim Haitian leader also discussed plans to replace the current U.S.-led security force in Haiti with a United Nations peacekeeping mission of some 8000 troops and police. The issue was also on the agenda of Mr. Powell's New York meeting Tuesday with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The U.N. Security Council approved a resolution late last week authorizing the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, which is to begin June 1 for an initial period of six months, though the mandate is renewable.

The U.N. military contingent will replace the 3600 member force from the United States, France, Canada and Chile that was deployed in February to keep order after Mr. Aristide left the country following a three-week rebellion.