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French aid group MSF accuses U.S. over Haiti delays

PARIS (Reuters) - One of France’s main humanitarian organisations accused the United States on Wednesday of mishandling aid operations in Haiti and causing severe delays to doctors trying to bring vital help to victims of the earthquake.

Francoise Saulnier, head of the legal department of aid group Medicins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) said days had been lost because the main airport in Port-au-Prince, now under U.S. control, had been blocked by military traffic.

“We lost three days,” she told Reuters Television in an interview. “And these three days have created a massive problem with infection, with gangrene, with amputations that are needed now, while we could have really spared this to those people.”

The aid group, set up in 1971 by a group of journalists and doctors including France’s current foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, has complained that 5 aeroplanes carrying 85 tonnes of drugs and surgical supplies have been turned away from Port-au-Prince since Sunday night.

France’s junior overseas cooperation minister, Alain Joyandet, protested to U.S. authorities at the weekend when a French plane carrying humanitarian aid was prevented from landing at the U.S.-controlled airport in the Haitian capital.

But President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office has played down talk of a rift in the aid operation, saying Paris was very satisfied with the level of cooperation with U.S. authorities.

Thousands of U.S. troops have been deployed to secure supplies in Haiti days after the devastating quake on January 12 which killed and injured tens of thousands of people and left hundreds of thousands dependent on emergency aid.

Saulnier said the situation for surgeons working on the ground was extremely difficult and relief teams had been forced to buy equipment on the local market to cut bones.

“So it’s just apocalyptic at the moment with people in a very, very bad and deteriorating condition,” she said, adding that there had been “real mismanagement of vital issues.”

“You have the three first days to get people out of the buildings, then three others to give them medical and surgical attention and then all the rest, emergencies, food, shelter, water -- all this comes after,” she said, speaking in English.

“And now everything has been mixed together and the urgent and vital attention to the people has been delayed (for) military logistics, which is useful but not on day three, not on day four, but maybe on day eight. This military logistic has really jammed the airport and led to this mismanagement.

(Additional reporting by Yann Tessier)

Writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Crispian Balmer