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Oxfam urges Haiti debt cancellation

LONDON, Jan 25 – Charity Oxfam urged Monday countries at an emergency meeting to help quake-hit Haiti to cancel the devastated nation\’s 890 million dollars of international debt.

The appeal came as the United States, Canada, France, Brazil and other donors with interests in Haiti met in Montreal to map out plans to rebuild the Caribbean nation and improve aid efforts for millions of people.

"Expecting Haiti to repay millions of dollars as the country struggles to overcome one of the worst natural disasters in recent memory would be both cruel and unnecessary," said Jeremy Hobbs, international executive director of the London-based aid agency.

Cancellation of the 890-million-dollar (550-million-pound, 630-million-euro) burden should be accompanied by action at the Canada meeting to deliver on a pledge to turn a huge loan into a grant, said Oxfam.

The International Monetary Fund has vowed to change a 100-million-dollar emergency loan to Haiti into a grant but needs permission from countries that give the body funds to do so, according to Oxfam.

The charity said removing Haiti\’s debt burden was one of their five priorities for the reconstruction of the hard-hit nation.

Others were: support for Haitian farmers and small business; to ensure poor areas benefit from grants intended for them; to support civil society; and to rebuild what the quake destroyed better than before the devastation.

Steps must also be taken to boost food production for up to three million Haitians affected by the disaster, the aid agency added.

"Immediate cancellation of foreign debt must be accompanied by urgent action to support farmers and prevent a man-made food crisis exacerbating the hardship faced by the people of Haiti," said Hobbs.

Haiti\’s Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive is expected at the closed-door talks along with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and other officials.

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It will also bring together Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Spain and Uruguay along with officials from the United Nations and the Organisation of American States.

The European Union, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the IMF and several non-governmental organisations will also be represented.

The magnitude 7.0 earthquake, which hit Haiti on January 12, has killed at least 112,000 people and is the worst recorded disaster ever to hit the Americas.

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