PORT-AU-PRINCE, April 15 (AFP) – Visiting French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie Thursday pledged to help Haiti regain its footing following months of crisis and violence.

“We want to help Haitian authorities restore the normal institutional functions and economic development that are essential for the country,” she said after a 45-minute meeting with Prime Minister Gerard Latortue.

France will notably help create conditions for elections to be held as soon as possible, said Alliot-Marie, the first French minister to visit Haiti since February 29, when then-president Jean Bertrand Aristide resigned and left the country.

“We will also try to help them rebuild the police, justice, education and health sectors as well as technical sectors such as road-building,” she said.She said France would send police and gendarmes to participate in a future UN security force in Haiti.

Latortue said France would also help assess the role former insurgents could play in the police force.

Haiti’s small police force is currently assisted by a 4,000-strong interim military force, which includes 2,000 US and about 1,000 French soldiers.

Alliot-Marie praised the French troops for “creating a relationship of trust with the population,” which helped stabilized the country.

“It is one of the characteristics of the French armed forces to be able to create such relationships.

“You contribute to give an improved image to relations between France and the United States after the tensions we have known,” Alliot-Marie said in a reference to the cooling of bilateral ties that followed France’s refusal to support the Iraq war.

General Henry Clement-Bollee, who heads the French Forces of the Antilles, said the multinational force “halted the spiraling of violence in Port-au-Prince and significantly lowered the level of insecurity in the capital.”

Nonetheless, he said, there are still incidents of crime such as racketeering, looting and abductions.

Earlier this week, authorities recalled more than 100 senior Haitian police officials from duty.

“Certain irregularities” within Haiti’s national police force were cited in the decision to remove the 120 officials, in the first major move to purge the police force since Aristide’s departure.

Those asked to step down include chief inspector general Evens Pierre Saintune and administrative police director Rudy Berthomieux.

Alliot-Marie also met interim president Boniface Alexandre at the presidential palace and visited the French school in Port-au-Prince before heading by helicopter to northern Haiti to visit French troops deployed there.

Alexandre took over the presidency hours after the departure of Aristide, which plunged the crisis-wracked country into chaos and violence for several days, and was followed the same day by the arrival of the first contingent of US Marines, later followed by French, Canadian and Chilean soldiers.

Aristide, now in Jamaica, has accused the United States and France of forcibly removing him from power, and he has instructed lawyers in both countries to begin lawsuits alleging kidnapping and illegal detention.

Both Paris and Washington have rejected the accusations, saying Aristide voluntarily stepped down to prevent a “bloodbath.”