Donors pledge $520 million for Liberia

Saturday, February 7, 2004

UNITED NATIONS -- International donors pledged $520 million Friday to start the long process of turning Liberia from a failed war-ravaged state into a democracy with a thriving economy.

Secretary of State Colin Powell announced a $200 million U.S. pledge and urged the world community to help Liberians seize what may be "their last, best chance for peace, prosperity and democracy."

Liberia's transitional leader, Gyude Bryant, promised that the money will be spent wisely to help the country's 3 million people rebuild after a ruinous 14-year civil war.

"We'll try to achieve our results in two years, and we will deliver," he said.

"I assure you there will be accountability and there will be transparency. The Liberian people will be grateful. Our children will be grateful, and our children yet unborn will call you blessed."

Liberia was established by freed American slaves. Calling the United States Liberia's "best and oldest friend," Powell said Washington will help ensure that Liberia's "children carry schoolbooks instead of AK-47s" and that its rich timber resources don't fuel war and its diamonds "are not dripping with blood."

The other big donors were the European Union, which also pledged about $200 million, and the World Bank which announced $50 million in grants to Liberia. Germany, Britain, Norway, the Netherlands and others also made significant pledges.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed to international donors for nearly $500 million for Liberia's reconstruction -- and at least $100 million more to meet its immediate humanitarian needs.

"Let us all seize this moment to end this long-running nightmare that has disgraced humankind," he said. "Let us consolidate the peace, and make the peace process irreversible."

U.N. and World Bank officials didn't break down how much of the $520 million would go to reconstruction and how much to humanitarian relief.

The World Bank and the United Nations have estimated that $487.7 million is needed over the next two years to meet Liberia's most urgent reconstruction needs. But Annan said Liberia's humanitarian needs can't be ignored, and he complained that a $179 million U.N. humanitarian appeal was largely unfunded.

Callisto Madavo, the World Bank's regional vice-president for Africa, called the total pledge "a very, very strong showing."

"In counting the pledges today, we focused very much on, did we mobilize enough money for the reconstruction and recovery? I believe we did," he told The Associated Press.

Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said he is optimistic but action is crucial. "While there's been significant progress in increasing security, we have yet to see a comprehensive peace across the country," he said.

The West African nation is trying to rebuild following President Charles Taylor's flight into exile in August, which cleared the way for a power-sharing deal between his government and rebels after 14 years of fighting that claimed more than 150,000 lives.

Bryant's government is expected to arrange elections for late 2005 and cede power to a representative government in early 2006.

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