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Haiti: Camp Near National Palace To Be Cleared

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HAITI NATIONAL PALACE CAMP
Guards raise the Haitian national flag outside the quake-destroyed ruins of the Presidential Palace on November 16, 2010 in Port-au-Prince. (HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images) | Getty

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — One of the most visible symbols of Haiti's earthquake will soon be dismantled as officials relocate nearly 20,000 people from a tent camp outside the collapsed National Palace, the government said Wednesday.

President Michel Martelly said Canada would help move the residents from the Champ de Mars plaza to new homes north of the capital. He said the operation would begin in six weeks.

"You've been here for two years, suffering without talking, with the kids," Martelly told a crowd of about a 1,000 onlookers who applauded the news a day before the quake's second anniversary. "We are going to remove everyone from under the tents."

Canada's government is providing $19.9 million over two years to finance the resettlement of the camp dwellers.

Canadian Minister of International Cooperation Beverley Oda said the project will also help train 50 Haitian entrepreneurs and create 2,000 jobs for removing debris and rebuilding and repairing homes.

The announcement came the same day that former U.S. President Bill Clinton arrived in Haiti in his role as U.N. special envoy to tour two businesses in the northeastern corner of the country – a factory run by the shoe manufacturer Timberland and a small farm that grows papaya, cashews and habanero peppers.

While visiting the Timberland plant, Clinton told reporters he hoped the mandate of a recovery commission on which he served as co-chairman would be renewed by Haiti's parliament.

"Right now I think it's pretty important for them to do so," Clinton said. "If they don't want this system we can manage another one. But I think that in order to maintain donor confidence they, we need the same sort of transparency."

The international panel was created by decree a few months after the 2010 earthquake to coordinate reconstruction efforts and give donors assurance that their aid money would not be squandered in a country with a history of corruption. Despite Martelly's request for a 12-month extension, the commission's mandate expired in October because opposition lawmakers took no action.

The absence of a commission has halted future projects from being approved, which helps secure financing with donors from the World Bank-run Haiti Reconstruction Fund and other groups. It could also discourage donors from releasing half of $4.6 billion already pledged for reconstruction.

Clinton said the businesses he visited could encourage other investors to follow them.

"This is a prime example of the things that other companies ought to do," said Clinton, who is co-chairman of an economic advisory board for Martelly.

Timberland has created a community group that promotes reforestation by helping farmers plant trees. The company expanded its operations from the neighboring Dominican Republic to the Haitian border town of Ouanaminthe last June. It employs 150 workers and hopes to hire 100 more this year.

The workers hand-stitch shoes at Haiti's minimum wage of $5 a day, Timberland executive Gareth J. Brooks said. They can also see a doctor or nurse who visits the plant weekly.

Down the road, the 14-acre North Coast Development farm employs 21 workers, including farmers, agronomists and a beekeeper. The crops, honey and beeswax candles are sold to buyers overseas.

Workers there also earn the minimum wage, though some make $350 a month and more because of their experience, said Andy English, executive director of North Coast Development.

The earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, killed an estimated 300,000 people and displaced 1.5 million more. Officials say the number of people now without homes has dropped to about 550,000.

Government officials and foreign aid workers have spent this week touting their accomplishments in the two years since the disaster, but some Haitians say they have see very little progress.

Several thousand people marched through downtown Port-au-Prince on Wednesday to protest what they say is a lack of housing.

The government is building 400 homes near the bay and 3,000 more at the bottom of a mountain also north of the capital.

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Associated Press writer Evens Sanon in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report.