Canada to host ministerial preparatory conference on quake-ravaged Haiti

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Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon announced on Sunday that a Ministerial Preparatory Conference of the Group of Friends of Haiti, major donors and regional and multilateral partners will be held on Monday in Montreal.

Cannon told a news briefing in Ottawa that the conference will focus on an overview of what's happening on the ground and the "critical first steps" in rebuilding the earthquake-ravaged country in the long term.

Cannon, who will chair the meeting, said that a larger donor coordination conference on reconstruction is expected to take place in the coming months.

Canada is committed to working with the international community to establish a clear and common vision for the early recovery and longer-term reconstruction of Haiti, he said. "This meeting will be the first step in reaching that goal."

Haiti's Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, who was expected to arrive in Ottawa on Sunday afternoon, has expressed his support for this initiative, and will attend the conference.

Also attending will be representatives of the Group of Friends of Haiti, the neighboring Dominican Republic, and major donors and key regional and multilateral partners engaged in Haiti, including the European Union, Spain and Japan.

A number of international organizations and key international financial institutions, including the Organization of American States, the Caribbean Community, the United Nations, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Caribbean Development Bank, have also been invited.

The conference will provide an opportunity for the donor community, the Haitian government and the UN to review progress to date in the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Haiti, Cannon said, adding that it will also help strengthen the international community's commitment to coordinate relief and recovery efforts in Haiti.

"Participants, including foreign ministers and delegates, will assess the current situation and identify remaining challenges to ensure the timely and effective delivery of critical assistance to those in need," he said.

Also attending will be non-governmental organizations, which will participate in an information session to provide their views on the situation on the ground as well as their perspectives on long-term reconstruction needs in Haiti.

In addition, Montreal's Haitian Diaspora will be represented at the conference.

Founded in the early 1990s, the Group of Friends of Haiti is an informal association of like-minded nations that meets on the margins of the UN Security Council. Member states are Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Peru, the United States and Uruguay.

As a Friend of Haiti, Canada has played a leadership role in providing international support to the government of Haiti, including by working to renew the mandate of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) to restore security and stability there, Cannon said. "This conference further strengthens Canada's expanded engagement in the Americas."

On Jan. 12, a strong earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale struck areas close to Port-au-Prince, causing widespread losses of life and extensive damage to infrastructure. Significant aftershocks followed, the strongest with a magnitude of 5.9 on Jan. 20.

The Canadian death toll in Haiti has risen to 19, and 213 Canadians remain unaccounted for to date.

On Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper described the donation of more than 67 million Canadian dollars by Canadians to earthquake relief as exceeding the government's "wildest expectations."

Harper also said his government has lifted a 50-million- Canadian-dollar ceiling on its dollar-for-dollar pledge to match public contributions to eligible relief organizations.

Canada and Haiti officially established diplomatic relations in 1954 and Haiti is the highest beneficiary of Canadian development assistance in the Americas and the second highest in the world after Afghanistan.

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