PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive says the Haitian government will appropriate land to build temporary camps for earthquake victims. The decision, announced in an interview with The Associated Press, is potentially explosive in a country where a small elite owns most of the land in and around the capital.

That elite, a traditionally corrupting force in Haitian politics, has the power to bring down the government.

The government owns some land but not enough, Bellerive said in an interview Thursday, meaning he has no choice but to take over private terrain.

He would not say how much land will be appropriated. But international aid groups say hundreds of hectares (acres) are needed to get quake victims out of overcrowded makeshift camps sprawled all over the devastated capital.

Bernard Fils-Aime, a businessman, property owner and president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Haiti, said he was not aware of anyone in the business community being approached by the government about land. He said the issue must be treated cautiously.

”Land is one of our very scarce resources and an issue that has underlined many political conflicts in Haiti since independence,” Fils-Aime said. ”You don’t want to create more conflict.”

Aid agencies have criticized the government for dragging its feet in building camps.

”The temporary camps where people have congregated are fast becoming overcrowded slums,” the relief agency Oxfam International warned last week. ”The government needs to clarify whether there is government land available or if it needs to confiscate private land instead. These decisions need to be taken quickly.”

The Haitian government has seemed to operate on a slower timetable. On Friday, the economist leading a government emergency commission on shelter held a news conference, saying government panels will make decisions in three to four weeks, and that the homes will be built in five or six months.

In the meantime, Charles Clermont said, people in the private sector have offered to build up to 30,000 temporary homes on private land and, presumably, sell them to the government.

Some 1.2 million Haitians were left homeless by the Jan. 12 quake, about half of them in the capital where about a third of Haiti’s nearly 10 million people are concentrated along with the government and almost all industry.

Camps have sprung up on every bit of available land – school and university grounds, public gardens, a golf course, the central plaza, sidewalks. But the camps, many little more than bed sheets propped up by poles, have little sanitation, and early sporadic downpours already are adding to the misery of their residents.


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