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Donors to Hold Liberia Reconstruction Conference in February

The United Nations along with the World Bank and the United States, is launching a global effort to marshal support for post-war reconstruction in Liberia. A core group of donors and international organizations will gather in New York next month to plot a course for Liberia's future.

After 15 years of destructive civil wars and political failure, Liberia is struggling to get on the road to national recovery. With that as its theme, the United Nations and a group of concerned countries and aid groups is sponsoring an international reconstruction conference for Liberia.

The gathering will take place at U.N. headquarters February 5 and 6. The goal is to win pledges of $400 million.

The special U.N. envoy to Liberia, Jacques Klein, says given the country's recent history of failure under exiled leader Charles Taylor, this could be the best opportunity to persuade donors to pitch in.

"This will be the last chance," he said, "because when you go to Brussels or elsewhere and talk to serious people they say, 'Look, we've rebuilt this twice now. How many more times are we doing to do this?' So this is the last chance."

Mr. Klein describes the goal of stabilizing Liberia as imperative for the West Africa region, because it is the key to political stability in the entire region.

The U.S. Congress has appropriated $200 million for the reconstruction effort and another $245 million in bilateral aid to Liberia. The European Union is contributing another 50 million euros.

The $250 million is more than half the reconstruction campaign's goal, and Mr. Klein says it has changed the complexion of the fund-raising effort.

"I would say two months ago, I was very pessimistic," he said. "There was no money on the table. Then suddenly, when I found out through a phone call that $445 million had been somehow appropriated, I was overwhelmed. So now I'm on solid footing. And we can legitimately say to whoever we meet here in February 'Now here's the $200 million from U.S., here's the 50-some million from European Union, where's yours.'"

Among those scheduled to address the Liberia reconstruction conference next month are U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Other speakers include leaders of Liberia's transitional government and senior World Bank representatives.