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UK halts aid to stricken Honduras

BRITAIN THIS week called off its military rescue operation in hurricane-ravaged Honduras, despite pleas for Bailey bridges to restore vital transport links.

Last weekend, two weeks after Hurricane Mitch swept through Central America, the British Government ended its military rescue operation saying it had no immediate plans to send in the Royal Engineers.

Honduran ambassador Roberto Flores told NCE that he asked the Foreign & Commonwealth Office for donations of Bailey bridges earlier this

month, days after the hurricane ended. He backed up the request with a call to the Ministry of Defence.

Delays in re-establishing communications washed away in floods threaten to cause a new wave of deaths from starvation and disease. The mountainous eastern part of the country is still completely cut off, leaving small communities without food, clean water or fuel.

'The possibility of setting up a bridge within a few days would make a big difference to these remote areas. We need these bridges now,' said Flores.

He added: 'With the roads still cut we cannot reactivate and restart the economy. If we don't have bridges, we can't get the smallest crops out or fertilisers in.'

Latest estimates of damage and casualties in Honduras put the number of dead at 7,000, and the number still missing at 3,000. More than 90 bridges are known to have been destroyed and 72 are badly damaged.

British military relief efforts involved Navy helicopters and 200 marines searching for survivors. In neighbouring Nicaragua, 29 British Commandos have also been helping with aid distribution, house repairs, latrine and waste pit construction and re-establishing water supplies.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said there were no immediate plans to send bridging equipment or the Royal Engineers to Central America.

'We will consider any further requests for help but only if the Department for International Development asks us,' he said.

A DfID assessment team arrived in Honduras on Monday but has still to report back. Another is due in Nicaragua next week.

Honduras' nearest developed neighbour, the US, is also holding back from sending engineers and equipment. The US Corps of Engineers sent a nine-strongassessment team to Honduras last Wednesday but has so far sent no tangible help.

Matthew Jones

(see Commentary page 12)

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