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Rising violence making aid efforts risky, difficult

WASHINGTON – Some incidents of violence in Haiti have hindered rescue workers trying to help earthquake victims, a top official leading the U.S. government’s relief efforts said Sunday.

Providing humanitarian aid requires a safe and secure environment, said Lt. Gen. Ken Keen of the U.S. Southern Command. While streets have been largely calm, he said, violence has been increasing.

“We are going to have to address the situation of security,” Keen said. “We’ve had incidents of violence that impede our ability to support the government of Haiti and answer the challenges that this country faces.”

Keen said about 1,000 U.S. troops are in Haiti and that 3,000 more are working from ships. More than 12,000 U.S. forces are expected to be in the region by today.

Fear of looters and robbers has been one of the factors slowing the delivery of aid. After Tuesday’s earthquake, maintaining law and order fell to the 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers and international police already in Haiti, even though those forces also sustained heavy losses in the disaster.

Keen said U.S. forces are working with U.N. peacekeepers and that local police are beginning to assist in providing security.

On Sunday, the White House said President Barack Obama had issued an order allowing selected members of the military’s reserves to be called up to support operations in Haiti. Signed Saturday, the executive order permits the Defense and Homeland Security departments to tap reserve medical personnel and a Coast Guard unit that will help provide port security. More than 250 medical personnel from the Health and Human Services Department are already in Haiti.

Rescue efforts and getting food, water and medical supplies to earthquake victims were the focus of efforts Sunday, U.S. officials said.

Rajiv Shah, who leads the U.S. Agency for International Development, said U.S. relief workers are also trying to rescue people from under the damaged and destroyed buildings.

International search and rescue teams are looking for earthquake survivors around the clock as officials running the rescue effort get closer to shifting to a recovery operation.

There have been 62 live rescues, Tim Callaghan of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s foreign disaster assistance office said Sunday. American search and rescue teams had performed 29 of those rescues.

National Security Council aide Dennis McDonough said the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Oak arrived Sunday with heavy cranes and other machinery to get Haiti’s main shipping port up and running. The port was heavily damaged by the earthquake and is central flow point for fuel.

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