French President Nicolas Sarkozy has pledged to support international relief efforts in Haiti during the first ever visit by a French head of state to the former colony.
He paid tribute to the courage and tenacity of the Haitians as they struggle to cope with the aftermath of the earthquake which has claimed the lives of an estimated 220,000 people.
The president then boarded a helicopter to see for himself the devastation wrought by the catastrophe.
In what is being seen as an attempt to turn the page on a long history of strained relations between the two countries, in his address, he alluded to the pain of the colonial past.
“Our presence here has not only left good memories, the wounds of colonisation and moreover the further conditions on the separation left traces that are still alive in the memories of Haitians,” he said.
“International aid must be massive, sustainable, but only the people of Haiti can define their national reconstruction project.”
France is to provide 270 million euros in aid over the next two years to help rebuild Haiti’s shattered infrastructure.
French officials will also take part in a high-level international donors’ conference for Haiti to be held in New York next month.
Economists estimate the cost of rebuilding Haiti could reach nearly 10 billion euros making it proportionately the most destructive natural disaster in modern times.