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Homeless Haitians: aid halted to force them out

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Homeless Haitians: aid halted to force them out

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Homeless victims of Haiti's earthquake said Monday that police are halting deliveries of food and water to try to force them to leave their camp on the grounds of the prime minister's office .
Police have padlocked gates to the camp where about 2,500 homeless people live under bed sheets propped on sticks on the sloping hill leading to the office. Stinking garbage with swarms of flies is piling up and portable latrines are filled, camp residents complained.

Witnesses said police beat 22-year-old Dalida Jeanty in the morning after she picked up a broom to sweep around her tent. "They called her and she did not come so they beat her," said her cousin, Alix Jeanty.

Friends and relatives carried the woman down the hill and U.N. peacekeepers arranged for her to be taken to the hospital.

A police officer guarding the gate refused to give his name or to comment on the alleged beating or on accusations they have been turning away trucks carrying food and water for the past 10 days. Calls to the information ministry on Monday were unanswered, as was an e-mail to the prime minister's chief aide.

"We've been here for a month and we were being treated well, but for the past two weeks we have been mistreated," said Markinson Midey, a 22-year-old student. "Anytime they bring food or water, the police make the trucks leave."

He and other residents said they believe the government wants to make the camp conditions so bad that people will be forced to leave, even though they have nowhere to go.

Many government buildings were damaged in the Jan. 12 quake and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive is working out of the same office as President Rene Preval at a temporary government headquarters set up in the headquarters of the judicial police, near the airport.

The Jan. 12 earthquake killed about 200,000 people and left 1.2 million homeless, according to the government.

More than half a million people fled devastated Port-au-Prince, but 700,000 are living in every available piece of open land, from public squares and school yards to sidewalks, their only protection makeshift tents of sheets propped up by sticks.

Many got soaked by an overnight downpour. Doctors say many children — half the population of Haiti is under 15 years — are suffering from colds, coughs and diarrhea.

Bellerive told The Associated Press last week that the government will be forced to appropriate private land to build better tent camps with tarpaulins.

But aid agencies taking part in a massive international effort to help victims say the government is dragging its feet even as the rainy season approaches and the need to get people out of congested camps that pose health risks and under proper cover becomes more urgent.

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