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Haiti will not be 'left behind,' MacKay says

Although Canada's military has begun the slow process of withdrawing more than 1,500 troops who have been helping to stabilize this earthquake-ravaged country since January, Haiti will not be "left behind," Defence Minister Peter MacKay promised the nation.

"We're here for the long term," he said yesterday after an afternoon visit to a Jacmel orphanage that Canadian soldiers have been helping rebuild.

"While the military are starting to transition now, this is happening for good reason."

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The military effort here was originally intended to help bridge the 30 to 60 days that were projected as the emergency phase, during which the population's most critical needs were water production and the establishment of shelters for a newly homeless population. In recent weeks, that phase has begun to wind down: the need for water among the general population is less desperate and lineups at the tented medical clinics established by Canadian Forces personnel have grown distinctly shorter.

HMCS Halifax left Jacmel's port more than a week ago to return to Canada; HMCS Athabaskan, the naval destroyer that has been stationed off the coast of badly ruined Léogâne, was told yesterday it, too, can prepare to depart Haiti. The ship's departure date is March 10.

The drawing down is already causing anxiety to mount among residents of Jacmel, many of whom are concerned about what will happen when the Canadian military pulls out of the city they've done so much to get back on its feet.

"Now that we know the Canadians are leaving, everybody is talking - everybody is complaining," said Jacky Khawly, a local business owner with family ties to Canada's Governor-General. "We know we have to start to mobilize."

Mr. MacKay was adamant that Canada's effort isn't winding down. It is, however, changing gears.

"The military impact was important. It was the first wave of aid," he said. "Now we'll get on with the important reconstruction and working with the government of Haiti and the international community to see that the aid continues so that this is not a country left behind, as has been the history."

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