US, Cuba hold rare meeting at UN, with Haiti focus

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NEW YORK (AFP) – Cuban and US diplomats have held a rare meeting at the United Nations that focused on aid efforts for quake-hit Haiti, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla said.

The meeting Wednesday between Rodriguez and Cheryl Mills, chief of staff to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "focused on rebuilding the health system of" Haiti, he said in a statement.

The encounter came on the sidelines of the UN donor conference for Haiti.

"Some cooperative activities have taken place between Cuba and the United States, in the effort to provide emergency care" following the earthquake, the minister said, adding that similar actions in the future are expected "to take place on the ground."

The United States broke off diplomatic relations with the communist island in 1961, but US President Barack Obama has said he would seek to ease tensions with adversaries like Cuba.

In the days following the 7.0-magnitude quake that struck Haiti on January 12, killing more than 220,000 people and leaving 1.3 million more homeless, Cuba offered rare cooperation with Washington by letting aid missions pass through its airspace and opening up its hospitals for victims.

Over the last year, the US administration has lifted travel and money transfer restrictions on Cuban-Americans with relatives in Cuba, although it has urged Havana to free political prisoners and improve political freedoms.

Last week Obama slammed the government over political and human rights repression and called for an end to the "clenched fist" policy against the Cuban people.

Some 50 international donors made a 9.9-billion-dollar pledge at the UN conference Wednesday in a bid to help Haiti recover from the devastating earthquake.

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