U.S., Italy spar over Haiti relief coordination

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Italy and the United States have quarreled over the efficiency of Haiti relief coordination, with an Italian envoy lashing out at poor U.S. performance.

The Italian special envoy to Haiti, civil protection chief Guido Bertolaso, Sunday described the international earthquake relief efforts as "pathetic" and uncoordinated. He said the relief lacked a real leadership on the ground.

Bertolaso, who successfully led the relief effort following the April quake in Italy's central region of Abruzzo, criticized the absence of central coordination in the international aid machine largely directed by the United States.

Referring to the global agencies operating on the island, he said many of them were "more interested in parading in front of the cameras than rolling up their sleeves and going to work to find survivors."

With regard to the U.S. role, Bertolaso noted it had done a poor job in spearheading the relief effort, sending too many troops and not enough people trained in disaster management.

The civil protection chief went even further by saying "what's really needed here is a person like (President Barack) Obama to come and take charge of the emergency."

The stinging remarks sparked a dispute between Italy and the United States.

On a visit to Washington to meet U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on Monday distanced himself from Bertolaso's words, saying Bertolaso was talking "on an emotional base" and not for the Italian government.

Bertolaso's remarks were "technical and not political. It's not our policy to criticize the work of other governments," said Frattini.

Clinton replied to Bertolaso's observations by saying he had no right to express his personal opinion, which sounded very much like a "Monday morning quarterback."

However, Clinton thanked Italy for its contribution in tackling the Haitian emergency but said the island's situation was different from the one in Abruzzo.

Upon his return in Italy, Bertolaso said he had been misunderstood both by Clinton and Frattini as he had not wanted to slam the U.S.-led relief operations but simply gave advice on how to improve the rescue coordination in Haiti.

Bertolaso was sent last Thursday by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on a 3-day government fact-finding mission to assess how Italy could help in the post-quake emergency. During his visit he met Haitian authorities and made some recommendations on conducting evacuation and sheltering orphans.

A team of the Italian civil protection is operating on the island, where it set up a field hospital shortly after the quake. Over 400 Italian doctors and volunteers are currently working on the island.

The civil protection's mission to Haiti will also include the construction of tent camps for the Haitian homeless based on the model of those created in Abruzzo.

The Italian government has allocated 5.7 million euros (7.98 million U.S. dollars) in aid and planned to cancel the island country's 40 million euros (56 million dollars) debt.

Last week, Italy's newest aircraft carrier the Cavour set sail for Haiti to provide logistical and operational support to relief efforts, packed with food from the UN agencies based in Rome.

On board are armored cars for security and a military corps of engineers who bring some 100 vehicles, including earth-moving and construction equipment. The mission is a joint one with Brazil, providing doctors and nurses for the ship's fully-equipped onboard hospital.

There have been two Italian victims in the earthquake, both of whom were UN officials, while five other Italians are still missing. A total of 191 Italians lived on the island. Those contacted have all been transferred to other countries.

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