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Liberian Officials Say They Are Pleased By Progress on International Debt Relief


Liberian officials say they are pleased with goodwill made by donor countries on wiping out hundreds of million of dollars of Liberia's international debt. VOA's Marissa Melton reports this result came from a week-long campaign by Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her cabinet members in Washington. During her stay, Ms Johnson Sirleaf also met with President Bush and participated in a donor-conference.

At a discussion held by the Center for Global Development Thursday, Liberia's finance minister Antoinette Sayeh said she feels confident about the progress made on clearing up Liberia's debt. "We think this week really helped release the logjam that there's been these past few months, and we're hopeful that we'll be making early progress toward clearing Liberia's arrears,before the end of this calendar year," he said.

This week the United States promised to forgive all of Liberia's $391 million debt to Washington. The U.S. also said it is prepared to redirect more than $150 million in funds held by the International Monetary Fund as a contribution toward forgiveness of Monrovia's debt to the IMF.

Meanwhile, Germany has promised to forgive nearly $400 million Liberia owes it, and Britain pledged to pay 10 percent of the funding necessary to cover the back-payments Liberia owes the African Development Bank.

On Thursday,an investment forum on Liberia was held to discuss the nation's key industries, such as oil and gas exploration and gold and diamond mining. Sayeh said beyond international aid, private investment is considered the key to a healthy economic future. "We continue to believe that the private sector will remain the engine of growth in Liberia for some time to come. And we were talking to them about the things the government needs to do to improve the environment for the private sector. There we think we've also made some progress," she said.

Alan Doss, coordinator of United Nations Operations in Liberia, said he believes Liberia has made great gains toward self-sufficiency, despite all the outside help. "Liberia now really is in the hands of Liberians. And that's the way it should be. We're there to assist and to help and yes, the UN has a big security presence, but at the end of the day, Liberia now is in the hands of Liberians and Liberia will be what Liberians want it to be," he said.

Many participants in this week's events have praised Liberia's progress in disarming armed fighters, restoring electricity to the capital city, and getting children back into school. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has said her government has demobilized and reintegrated more than 75,000 ex-combatants and placed 36,000 ex-combatants in formal education programs. She says the first 500 police officers have been trained, in what will someday be a force of 6,000. And, she says nearly 100,000 refugees and internally displaced persons have been returned to their homes.

Although progress has been made since Ms Johnson Sirleaf took office, rights group Amnesty International said Liberia is still backward in one very important aspect.

In a statement Thursday, the group said despite the establishment of a fact-finding commission to investigate alleged war crimes, Liberia has not done enough to bring justice to thousands of people who were victims of serious human rights violations. It said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission cannot act as a substitute for a court of law, and it urged President Johnson Sirleaf to come up with a plan to try and punish convicted abusers of human rights.

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