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Jamaica pulls out of Haiti

BY ERICA VIRTUE Observer writer virtuee@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, March 18, 2010    

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The Caribbean Community (Caricom) will be without a face and a presence in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, as Jamaica pulls out the last of its military personnel today.

Jamaica, with its military superiority, has been in the country since January 13 -- a mere 24 hours after the magnitue-7 earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, killing approximately 230,000 persons.

Jamaica began withdrawing its troops yesterday with the arrival in Kingston of 48 personnel.

The decision was taken based on a communique coming out of the just concluded Caricom Heads of Government conference in the Commonwealth

of Dominica.

As of now, Caricom's contribution will be monetary.

"With regard to the continued assistance to Haiti, the conference was guided by the pressing urgencies indicated by president Preval (Haitian President). In this regard, it was decided that the funds pledged by the Community for the third phase of Caricom's health sector intervention, would be contributed directly to the government of Haiti as a budgetary support to address these pressing needs," the communique, issued at the 21st intercessional meeting of the Caribbean Community heads, stated.

"...This gesture was also viewed as setting an example for the international community to follow," it added.

The conference, and Haiti's President Preval have agreed that, "a special fund should be established where all resources identified for Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake, should be placed and that the country should have immediate access to the resources".

Jamaica, through the JDF, sent about 320 personnel, including medics and military officials, but threatened to pull the soldiers after about three weeks in Port-au-Prince, citing its inability to afford the nearly $800,000 per day for the soldiers to remain in the country.

It sought assistance for Caricom to foot the bill, which a month later was running at some $40 million.

To date, all Caricom countries have sent personnel to Haiti, except Trinidad and Tobago.

However, it was Jamaica's response that led the way. In the first instance, approximately 168 personnel arrived in Port-au-Prince, two days after the devastating earthquake hit on January 12. They served as part of the recovery and medical assistance, as well as providing security for many of the international operations from other countries.

They spent a total of four weeks and were rotated and replaced by another 158 personnel, while a small number of officers from the original team remained.

Lieutenant Colonel Desmond 'Desi' Edwards replaced Major Jaime Ogilvie on February 11, and today ends a five-week tour of duty.

"Our focus was relief distribution and medical outreach primarily in Leogane, Port-au-Prince, Archaie and Cabaret...," the commanding officer told the Observer.

According to him, the JDF focus was on communities in the south of the island, with the capital city being the main reference point.

Jamaica also responded in large numbers with personnel from the Ministry of Health, who were rotated on seven-day tours. They were accommodated at the JDF camp near the airport and the combination facilitated large medical outreach.

However, the last of the health personnel left Haiti on March 5, resulting in the JDF becoming focused on relief distribution, particularly to children's homes, given that only a limited number of JDF medical personnel remained.

On Tuesday, its final outreach was done at an orphanage in Carrefour for abandoned and homeless children, and another at Delmas 3, which is run by Missionaries of the Poor.

Yesterday, soldiers carried out final duties at the UN headquarters at MINUSTAH log base while others prepared to return home.

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