Tue, Feb 22, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Chinese policemen make themselves at home in Haiti while dreaming of the US

AFP , PORT-AU-PRINCE

In tropical Haiti, 138 Chinese policemen encamped in an old warehouse as part of a UN force try to recreate the atmosphere of their distant home, all the while dreaming of seeing the much closer US.

Since arriving on this palm-fringed Caribbean island six months ago, the policemen, part of a much larger UN stabilization group, have made a credible effort evoking the life they left back home.

For the Lunar New Year holiday on Feb. 8, the group set off fireworks and put on a banquet of classic New Year dishes, inviting Haitians to the feast, said Wang Xuzhou, communications officer for the squadron.

"We miss our country, but we do not feel too far away from it," Wang said, pointing to the lively decor in the warehouse they now call home. On tables nearby, a number of the policemen are digging into bowls of Chinese soup. And in the corner is a telephone for them to call their families.

Even so, China is far away, very far away, one says.

Unable to return home to see their families for the New Year -- an almost mandatory obligation in China -- some took advantage of their proximity to the US and the privileges of their UN badges to discover the New World.

"I have spent my holiday between New York, Los Angeles and Florida," a visibly happy Wang said. Travelling with 15 colleagues, they lodged at cheap hotels and youth hostels to save money.

With their credentials on the UN police force, it was not hard to get US visas, which are much coveted and extremely hard to obtain for the average Haitian.

The presence of Chinese in Haiti is not new, but it is a novelty to have visitors from the People's Republic of China. Beijing lacks diplomatic relations with Port-au-Prince, which recognizes instead rival Taiwan. Through more than 40 years of an aggressive and generous diplomacy, Taipei has kept Haiti on its side in its longstanding dispute with Beijing over which one constitutes the "legitimate" China.

It helps that Taiwan has distributed millions of dollars over the years to local leaders and provided large sums for development.

Taiwanese agriculture experts have worked for years in the country, and Taiwan built the four-lane Toussaint L'Ouverture Avenue connecting to the international airport.

Several months ago, they sliced through the bureaucracy and avoided normal competitive contracting procedures to undertake a quick refurbishment of the Port-au-Prince stadium, just ahead of a charity football match with Brazil.

Sill, Taiwan's position as favorite appears to be under challenge. Along with the Chinese police in the UN's stabilization group, Beijing also opened a symbolic commercial office in the capital, two years ago.

But, as they launch into their new year in the steamy tropics, the policemen deny they are part of any diplomatic game.

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