Tharoor visits Haiti; meets President, Indian peacekeepers



New Delhi: Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor visited quake devastated Haiti and met President Rene Garcia Preval at his temporary home as well as Indian peacekeepers aiding the survivors in the Caribbean nation.

Tharoor made an unscheduled visit to Haiti capital Port-au-Prince Sunday after completing his tri-nation Latin American tour to Colombia, Peru and Dominican Republic, said officials in the Ministry of External Affairs.

As speculation continues about the toll of the January 12 earthquake, Preval told Tharoor that the latest figure on fatalities was over 111,000 dead. With the presidential palace abandoned, the meeting took place in the house where the President is staying temporarily. His office now operates from a police station.

India has already pledged USD 6 million as immediate emergency cash donation after the 7.0 magnitude quake that has brought the nation of 9.8 million virtually to its knees.

Tharoor, a former UN undersecretary general, arrived Sunday at Haiti and laid a wreath at the Christopher Hotel, which was once the headquarters of UN's mission and is now a twisted heap of rubble and iron cables, officials said.

Nearly 100 members of the UN perished in the quake, which included the head Hedi Annabi and his deputy Luis Da Costa.

For the minister, the trip was also personal as he had worked with several of the dead.

Tharoor mentioned on his Twitter account that he had known Brazillian Costa for over 20 years as well as Hedi Annabi. "At Luis da Costa's widow's rqst (request), prayed for their souls & (and) those left (behind)," he tweeted Sunday.

He then met with the members of the Indian community in Haiti, which include a large contingent working with the United Nations.

The Indian contingent deployed with UN's Haiti mission, called MINUSTAH, consists of a 140-member Formed Police Unit (FPU), mainly from the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), as well as 11 UN police officers. There is also an Indian Army officer and five civilians on deputation with the UN logistics unit.

Besides, there are 51 Indians working with Trigyn Technologies Ltd, a Mumbai-based company that provides IT support for UN missions. The lone Indian fatality was of Satnam Singh, an engineer working with Trigyn.

The Indian members of the UN had been working non-stop to coordinate the activities of the aid agencies travelling to the Caribbean nation. The FPU had also set up a medical camp within their premises, with two Indian doctors having attended to nearly 500 trauma cases.

Besides, there were about 40 Indian families scattered around the islands, some of whom had been living with the FPU for the last several days. The FPU members, it is learnt, are sleeping in their open as their homes developed cracks.

There was also a group of Indian nuns of Missionaries of Charity who also met the Indian minister and talked about their work after the quake.

According to informed sources, Haiti was not in need for immediate relief, as aid was flowing in from all quarters. The current concern was the coordination and distribution of the aid.

India is currently assessing long-term aid need for Haiti and is likely to participate in a donor's conference in April at Dominican Republic.

IANS