By Sarah Morland
(Reuters) -The president of the Dominican Republic said he would meet United Nations chief Antonio Guterres on Wednesday to discuss a call from a U.N. expert to allow humanitarian supplies to pass through his country’s shuttered border with Haiti.
President Luis Abinader said he had not received a formal request to do so and would need more details, after U.N. expert William O’Neill said stopping essential goods such as food and medicine crossing the border would be “dire” for Haiti.
Abinader, who is seeking reelection in May, announced a total border shutdown on Thursday over the construction of a canal from a shared river he argues violates a 1929 treaty.
The Dominican Republic says the canal is being built by non-government agents, but has called on Haiti’s government – which is facing escalating gang warfare and a worsening humanitarian crisis – to halt construction.
Haiti has condemned the border shutdown and called on the Dominican Republic to safeguard Haitians in its country. The country has deported tens of thousands fleeing the crisis back to Haiti, despite repeated U.N. criticisms.
‘LIVES AT STAKE’
Santo Domingo has said it will not resume talks until construction on the canal is stopped, and that it is planning to build two dams which could “significantly affect” Haiti if the treaty is not active.
O’Neill had earlier on Monday called for the countries to seek international arbitration if necessary. “Lives are at stake,” he said in a statement.
“Directors of medical clinics in Haiti have told me that they will not be able to care for their patients if access to the Dominican Republic is cut off,” he added.
The Dominican foreign ministry responded rejecting O’Neill’s “biased and unfortunate” statements.
“It is not reasonable that our country should ensure the social well-being of Haitians,” it said, adding it “took note” of the request to allow humanitarian aid to pass though work on the canal must stop for an “immediate and definitive solution.”
Several aid groups in Haiti have stopped operations amid dwindling funds and dangers for staff and patients.
Abinader, who is attending the U.N. General Assembly in New York, added he would meet his Kenyan counterpart on Tuesday as the African nation mulls leading a U.N.-backed multinational force to help Haiti’s under-gunned police fight gangs.
(Reporting by Sarah Morland and Carolina Pulice in Mexico CityEditing by Bill Berkrot and Lincoln Feast.)