1st LD Writethru: UN lays wreath to mark 10th anniversary of Haiti earthquake

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UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 17 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations on Friday held a wreath-laying ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of a devastating earthquake in Haiti, which killed hundreds of thousands of people.

At the UN visitors' lobby, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres presided over the ceremony attended by representatives of the countries whose citizens lost their lives in the earthquake, friends and families of the victims, as well as blue beret-wearing UN peacekeeping personnel.

By the UN flag brought from the world body's then premises in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince and a wreath, Guterres said, "The magnitude of the tragedy was such that it took many years for any sense of normality to return. Today, insecurity and slow economic growth are contributing to rising social tensions and a deteriorating humanitarian situation."

He urged Haitians to resolve their differences through dialogue and to resist any escalation that could reverse the gains of the past decade, and pledged that the UN Integrated Office in Haiti and the 19 agencies, funds and programs present in Haiti will continue to work in partnership with the Haitian people on their path to recovery and prosperity.

On Jan. 12, 2010, an earthquake of 7.0 on the Richter scale devastated Haiti and took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Haitians. The 102 UN personnel from 30 countries who died in the earthquake represent the single greatest loss in the UN history.

"Those who died were in Haiti to help build stability and prosperity and consolidate peace and security, with international, national and local partners. Among them were policy advisers, political officers, humanitarians, development specialists, security officers, soldiers, lawyers, drivers and doctors," noted Guterres.

"A loss of this scale leaves permanent reminders and scars, on Haiti and on the United Nations. It binds us together and we will never forget," he said.

The UN chief pledged to renew commitment to honoring the legacy of those who died, "by working alongside the people and government of Haiti, and with the country's friends and supporters throughout the international community."

After delivering his remarks, Guterres led a minute of silence to commemorate the victims of the earthquake.

Patrick Saint-Hilaire, charge d'affaires of Haiti to the United Nations, expressed his gratitude to all the countries, the United Nations, and all the organizations that upheld respect for the dignity of Haitian people and for Haiti's national sovereignty and that continue to assist the country in overcoming such a terrible catastrophe.

He said, "We must not let the flame of solidarity die. We must not lose sight of the fact that the signs of the earthquake ... are still evident. If you're in Haiti, we must not lose sight of the fact that our country remains very impoverished and as vulnerable to natural disasters as it is to human wrongdoing."

President of the UN Staff Union Patricia Nemeth said the fallen UN personnel were working to restore a secure and stable environment in the aftermath of an armed conflict in Haiti, but the earthquake delivered a severe setback to their efforts and to the country as a whole.

However, she noted, "Those days of sorrow were also marked by acts of courage and kindness, as many countries responded to the appeals for humanitarian aid, pledged funds, and dispatched rescue medical teams and support personnel. The same courage and resilience in the face of adversity has provided strength for our UN staff through the years, and continues to define who we are as one UN family."

Participants of the ceremony lined up to lay a white carnation flower one by one in front of the wreath.

The United Nations began last Friday a week of commemoration of the Haiti earthquake with the release of a video message by Guterres for this occasion.

Earlier this week, a memorial of the earthquake was brought to the UN headquarters from Port-au-Prince. Buried in the foundation of the new memorial, called "A Breath," were pieces of rubble from the Christopher Hotel that housed the UN premises in Haiti.

Also, two plaques inscribed with the names of the dead were recently put up on the wall next to the framed UN flag brought back from the Christopher Hotel. Enditem

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