US accused of hampering Haiti aid flights and occupying the country
A French minister has called on the United Nations to investigate the dominant US role in Haiti saying aid efforts should be about helping Haiti, not "occupying" it.
US forces turned back a French aid plane carrying a field hospital from the damaged, congested airport in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince last week, prompting a complaint from French co-operation minister Alain Joyandet. The plane landed safely the following day.
Mr Joyandet, in Brussels for an EU meeting on Haiti, persisted: "This is about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti."
Geneva-based charity Medecins Sans Frontieres backed Mr Joyandet's calls to clarify their role saying lives are being put at risk as planes carrying medical supplies are being turned away by US air traffic controllers.
In another weekend incident, 250 Americans were flown to New Jersey's McGuire Air Force Base on three military planes from Haiti.
US forces initially blocked French and Canadian nationals from boarding the planes, but the cordon was lifted after protests from French and Canadian officials.
The US military controls the Port-au-Prince airport, where only one runway is functioning and has been effectively running aid operations.
Last week Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported that six out of seven charter flights bringing supplies and staff had been turned away, and a British search and rescue team was forced to return to the Dominican Republic. "We'd got to Haiti and were circling and circling over the airport but they wouldn't let us land," said Simon Cording, a rescue expert who was on the government-sponsored flight.
"If you ask me what I think of the Americans controlling airspace in Haiti, I want to kick their butt. The longer it takes us to land and start working, the more people will die. It's that simple."
The Red Cross has also complained about diverted flights.
Meanwhile Brazil has lodged an official protest with Washington after US military flights were given priority - forcing non-US flights to divert to Dominican Republic. Brazil also warned the US that it would not relinquish command of UN forces.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was also criticised by MSF when her visit delayed an aid flight, said on Saturday that the US government had no intention of taking power from Haitian officials, adding: "We are working to back them up, but not to supplant them."
The United Nations is taking the lead in the critical task of co-ordinating aid and Mr Joyandet said he expects a UN decision on how governments should work together in Haiti and he hopes "things will be clarified concerning the role of the United States".
The US state department rejected suggestions that US military needs have priority over the needs of quake survivors.
A spokesman said: "The democratically-elected government of Haiti is in charge. The US is not in charge here, the government of Haiti is in charge, the UN is in charge - we're supporting them."
Meanwhile Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused the US of 'occupying Haiti undercover'.
"They have 3,000 US soldiers arriving, Marines armed as if they were going to war. There is not a shortage of guns there, my God. Doctors, medicine, fuel, field hospitals, that’s what the United States should send," Chavez said. "They are occupying Haiti undercover."
US military commanders have repeatedly stressed that they are not entering the country as an occupying force.