Wednesday

18th Jan 2017

EU to send gendarmerie force to Haiti

  • A UN peacekeeper guards a bank queue in earthquake-struck Haiti (Photo: un.org)

EU foreign ministers have opted to send 300 or so military police to support the aid effort in Haiti, on top of a massive US security force.

France and Italy pledged to send between 120 and 140 gendarmes each at the ministers' meeting in Brussels on Monday (25 January). The Netherlands is to send 60. Portugal and Spain are also expected to contribute.

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The EU mission is getting ready to go in the next few days and will fall under UN command when it arrives in the earthquake zone.

The modest size of the EU-hatted deployment stands in contrast to US plans to have 20,000 military personnel on the ground by the end of the week.

EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton said UN leaders had asked her for specialists to help with specific policing problems rather than to provide general security in the collapsed state.

"The UN is looking for people with expertise to do specific things," she said. "We need to help support the [Haiti] administration get back to life."

Following his visit to the Caribbean island over the weekend, EU development commissioner Karel De Gucht said the country has been "decapitated."

"The Haitian state has practically disappeared. We met the president, the prime minister and senior officials, but we were meeting them in a disused police station. That's all that the government consists of," he said.

The commissioner paid tribute to nurses and doctors working "around the clock" in "a sort of war zone" to help the 250,000 people injured in the disaster on top of the 200,000 or more dead.

The EU foreign ministers on Monday also set up a "co-ordination cell" in Brussels to help ensure that the mixed bag of bilateral EU aid to Haiti is delivered as efficiently as possible.

Twenty four EU countries as well as the European Commission have put forward over €450 million in cash, 12 search and rescue teams, 130 civil protection experts, two field hospitals, 38 medical teams, six water sanitation units and an aircraft carrier with two hospitals on board.

Going into the meeting on Monday, French EU affairs minister Pierre Lellouche repeated French concerns that the EU is playing second fiddle to the US in terms of its international profile on the Haiti crisis: "We're going to try to do better in terms of the union's visibility," he said.

Ms Ashton batted aside press questions about the importance of the EU's image, however.

"There's been a recognition from the people of Haiti, the US, the UN and others of the extremely important role the EU has played. On the main issue, we should ask, have we tried to save lives, to support the people of Haiti? Yes we have," she said.

The remarks follow harsh criticism of international posturing over the crisis by an Italian government envoy to the region, Guido Bertolaso.

"When there is an emergency it triggers a vanity parade. Lots of people go there anxious to show that their country is big and important, showing solidarity," Mr Bertolaso said from Haiti at the weekend.

The original article said Portugal would send 50 gendarmes and Spain 40. It later emerged the countries have not yet made clear their pledges.

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