Bill Clinton apologizes for slow Haiti aid effort

PORT-AU-PRINCE: Former US president Bill Clinton pledged to try to get aid flowing as he was met by angry Haitians protesting the slow arrival of help since last month's quake.

Clinton said he was sorry that the aid efforts had been so slow, adding he also wanted to understand why more than three weeks after the January 12 quake supplies were still not getting through to desperate Haitians.

"I'm sorry it's taken this long," Clinton said, adding he and other relief workers were working hard to ease the suffering.

"I'm trying to get to what the bottlenecks are, part of it is just shipping the volume of food in here that is necessary," Clinton told reporters as he visited a clinic in the ruined capital of Port-au-Prince.

But the former president rejected suggestions he had in effect become governor of this small Caribbean nation.

"What I don't want to be is the governor of Haiti. I want to build the capacity of the country to chart its own course. They can trust me not to be a neocolonialist, I'm too old."

Clinton also visited the government's de facto headquarters in a police building in the city, where about 200 people demonstrated outside to protest the lack of shelter.

"Our children are burning in the sun. We have a right to tents. We have a right to shelter," said Mentor Natacha, 30, a mother of two who gathered at one of the various points in the ravaged city that witnessed protests.

A similar number gathered in front of the US embassy nearby.

Participants said they hoped to meet Clinton, who was designated Wednesday as coordinator of international aid for the impoverished Caribbean nation by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

There have been persistent problems in getting aid to the more than one million Haitians left homeless after the 7.0-magnitude quake which leveled much of central Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns.

But his aid-focused visit threatened to be overshadowed by the case of 10 American Christians detained on child kidnapping charges for trying to smuggle 33 Haitian children across the border into the Dominican Republic.

Clinton stressed he was not there to intervene in the case. "That's not within my mandate. I know that the State Department and government have had these discussions."Related article: Missionary case distracts from Haiti's desperation

The five men and five women were sent to jail on Friday to await trial, after being charged with child abduction and criminal conspiracy by Haitian prosecutors on Thursday. The group has denied ill intent.

The Haitian authorities, under pressure to clamp down on child trafficking and to show the country's crippled government can get on its feet, have insisted the 10 be tried in Haiti.

Clinton's wife, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said Friday the US ambassador was working with Haitian officials on the case, and that Washington expressed "hope that this matter can be resolved in an expeditious way."

"Obviously, this is a matter for the Haitian judicial system," she added.

An estimated 212,000 people were killed by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake, making it the worst recorded natural disaster in the Americas.

The United States, which is spearheading the relief efforts, has deployed 20,000 troops plus helicopters, transport planes and other equipment, but coordination problems and the sheer scale of the crisis have hampered operations.

Clinton visited Port-au-Prince's Gheskio medical clinic where his foundation said he would deliver "water, food, medical supplies, solar flash lights, portable radios, and generators donated by Home Depot (and) Walmart."

The head of the clinic, Jean William Pape, told AFP the clinic has been overwhelmed since the quake.

"It has been huge on us because in addition to providing the care to our HIV/AIDS patients, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, we have to take care of around 6,000 refugees," he said.

"We don't have enough supplies. We don't have tents for them and the rainy season is coming and we live in a flood area."