By ROB GILLIES
Associated Press Writer
MONTREAL (AP) - Aid groups will work off of an existing plan for Haiti's development to help the country recover from a devastating earthquake, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday.
Clinton said that international donors and organizations had been mapping out a plan for the country's development for months before the quake. She spoke while en route to a conference in Montreal on how to channel aid into Haiti, and indicated this could be the basis for a revised plan now.
"I don't want to start from scratch, but we have to recognize the changed challenges that we are now confronting," she said.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said his government needs to rely strongly on its partners but he asserted that Haiti is able to lead the rebuilding effort after the Jan. 12 earthquake.
"Haitians continue to work in precarious conditions but it is in the position to assume the leadership expected of it by its people in order to relaunch the country on the path to reconstruction," Bellerive said in opening remarks.
Haiti's magnitude-7 earthquake killed an estimated 200,000 people and left the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere virtually without a functioning government. It wrecked the presidential palace, parliament, government ministries and the U.N. headquarters, among thousands of other structures.
Bellerive has previously acknowledged the government was facing serious legitimacy issues as people question whether it exists at all. The destruction of the key government buildings has hampered the work of what was already a weak and inefficient state.
Bellerive said Monday that Haiti's government has set up six groups to deal with issues such as humanitarian aid, housing and security. He said each group is being led by a Haitian minister as well as an international party.
He said 200,000 tents are needed immediately.
Haiti must avoid excessive centralization when rebuilding, Bellerive said.
"In 30 seconds, Haiti lost 60 percent of its GDP that was mainly in the Port-au-Prince area, so we must decentralize. It's the only way to be effective, efficient and ensure that this does not re-occur in the same way," he said.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and foreign ministers from more than a dozen countries, eight international bodies and six major non-governmental organizations are meeting at the conference.
"I believe that the international community is working to support the Haitian government and the Haitian government needs to be in the lead for deciding what happens in their country," said Caroline Atkinson, the IMF's director of external communication for the International Monetary Fund.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said in an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday that one goal is to "physically get the Haitian government back on its feet."
Cannon said the conference would review the progress of aid delivery to Haiti since the earthquake and lay the groundwork for a larger meeting that will focus on long-term reconstruction. He said the initial meeting is not a donor conference where countries will pledge aid. He said he expects to announce the date and location of that larger conference.
Cannon said the morning session will take stock of the aid efforts. He said ministers will hear from Bellerive, the United Nations and non-governmental agencies such as the Red Cross.
Ministers will meet in the afternoon to work on the steps needed ahead of the larger reconstruction conference, where money will be pledged. Cannon said he expects the date and location of that conference to be announced Monday.
Governments have pledged nearly $1 billion in aid to Haiti, according to an Associated Press estimate, including $575 million from the European Union's 27 nations.
Monday's meeting comes as a global army of aid workers was delivering more food into people's hands in Haiti, but the efforts were still falling short.
International Red Cross spokesman Paul Conneally, speaking from Geneva and just back from Haiti, said there was a growing need to bring in heavy equipment to take down damaged buildings, some of which could collapse at the slightest aftershock.
Decisions will have to be made in Montreal about urban planning for the new Port-au-Prince, he said. "It's going to require, minimum, a generation to rebuild Port-au-Prince. The Haitians understand that."
Canada has deep ties to Haiti. More than 100,000 people of Haitian descent live in Canada, most of them in Montreal.
AP National Security Writer Robert Burns contributed to this story.