France cancels debt, earmarks 270 million euros for reconstruction
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled an aid package of 270 million euros over the next two years for the reconstruction of quake-stricken Haiti during a brief visit to Port-au-Prince. He also cancelled the island's debt worth 56 million euros.
REUTERS - France will provide 270 million euros over two years to Haiti to help the Caribbean nation's economy recover from a devastating Jan. 12 earthquake, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Wednesday.
Announcing the assistance at a news conference with Haitian President Rene Preval, Sarkozy said France had already decided to forgive its 56 million euros of debt to his country in the wake of the quake.
Sarkozy spoke after arriving in the capital Port-au-Prince on the first visit by a French head of state to the former French Caribbean colony.
"I have come to tell the Haitian people that they are not alone," he said.
The French assistance will include the provision of 1,000 tents and 16,000 tarpaulins to help shelter 200,000 people during Haiti's rainy season, which typically begins in late March or April.
The quake last month killed more than 200,000 people and left more than 1 million homeless.
France also will provide 10 experts to work with the Haitian Prime Minister and his staff on the recovery effort for two years. Other experts will undertake short-term missions.
In addition, France has pledged to carry out a preparatory study to reconstruct the ornate, white Haitian Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince, which partially collapsed during the quake.
Sarkozy made the announcement on the grounds of the palace.
Besides visiting a French field hospital in Port-au-Prince, Sarkozy will be looking to turn the page with his visit on a long history of troubled French relations with Haiti, which won independence in 1804 after a bloody revolt by black slaves against their white masters.
International donors are providing emergency aid to victims of the quake but also looking to support Haiti's long-term recovery to try to pull the Western Hemisphere's poorest state out of a cycle of poverty and political instability.
France will participate in a high-level international donors conference for Haiti next month in New York.
Economists from the Inter-American Development Bank have estimated the cost of rebuilding Haiti after the quake could reach nearly $14 billion, making it proportionately the most destructive natural disaster in modern times.
Preval, who hosted Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday, has said his government is discussing the creation of a common fund for Haiti's recovery to be managed in partnership with donors.
Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez has estimated this fund could total $10 billion over five years. Other leaders say a decade will be needed for rebuilding.