Haiti's new U.S.-backed leader said on Sunday he had dropped a "ridiculous" demand by ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide for France to return $22 billion he said the Caribbean nation was forced to pay its colonial masters after gaining independence in 1804.

Aristide, driven into exile on February 29 in the face of a month-long revolt and US and French pressure, had launched a vigorous campaign to get back 90 million gold francs Haiti paid Paris in reparations after its slaves drove out the French.

At today's values – and totting up interest to the last cent – Aristide claimed the money was now worth nearly $22 billion, and would go a long way to helping the poorest country in the Americas get back on its feet.

"This claim was illegal, ridiculous and was made only for political reasons," Prime Minister Gerard Latortue said, saying Haiti had no interest in maintaining an atmosphere of confrontation with France.

"This matter is closed. What we need now is increased cooperation with France that could help us build roads, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure," he said.

About 1,000 French soldiers have joined an international force led by US Marines in a UN-sanctioned mission to restore peace in Haiti after the revolt, in which more than 200 people died.

The rebellion was begun by an armed gang that once supported Aristide – Haiti's first democratically elected leader – and was soon joined by former soldiers and right-wing death squad leaders who returned from exile.

Latortue, a former UN bureaucrat, was named by a council of eminent Haitians to lead a government until new elections.

Since Aristide's flight, a ubiquitous government-sponsored jingle that went, "Reparations, restitution we demand, France pay me my money to celebrate my freedom," has vanished from the airwaves.

Some historians say the burden of compensation for plantations and even slaves paid by Haiti to Paris between 1826 and 1893 ensured that what had been France's richest colonial treasure would become one of the world's poorest countries.

Many Aristide supporters believe France supported what they saw as a US-backed "coup" against Aristide because of irritation over the reparations claim.

French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie denied those allegations during a visit this month and said France's decision to get involved in the international force was motivated by a desire to help Haiti avoid an even greater disaster.

Latortue said talks he had had with officials from both the United States and France gave him hope they would support Haiti as it tries to rebuild. US Secretary of State Colin Powell also visited Haiti in the past few weeks.

Encouraged by former settlers, who spent years pushing for a new invasion after rebellious slaves defeated Napoleon's troops on the battlefield, France imposed the indemnity on the government of Jean-Pierre Boyer in 1825.

Some historians say France made it clear that was what the former colony had to pay to avoid a new invasion.