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Liberians Look Toward New Donor Conference

Liberians have high expectations for the upcoming week of meetings, donor conferences and forums between top officials in Washington, set to address their need for help. VOA's Nico Colombant has more from Dakar.

Richard Tolbert, the chairman of Liberia's national investment commission, explains to VOA the importance of the two-day donor conference that begins Tuesday.

"The purpose of the donor conference is to inform all of our international partners about the needs and potential for engaging Liberia in its interim poverty-reduction strategy," he said. "There was a conference held in this country in February of last year in which we brought our partners up to date on the progress made so far and this donors conference is intended to further that objective."

On the second day of the conference, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will meet President Bush at the White House. A U.S. government statement says the two leaders will discuss continuing cooperation in the areas of reconstruction, economic development, trade, investment, security-sector reform and debt relief.

Thursday, the chairman of the Liberian investment commission, Richard Tolbert, will head a conference for the private sector, also in Washington.

"The president, in her wisdom, decided that we will have a third day this year, following the two-day conference which is largely directed toward governmental and intergovernmental organizations. But there will be a third day, focused on the private sector, which I will be chairing along with the minister of commerce [Olubanke King-Akerele]," added Tolbert. "We have got a need to rebuild this country and, with the budgetary limitations that we have, the president has recognized that the private sector is a key towards stimulating and revitalizing this country."

Among ordinary citizens, expectations are high for the week, which begins with a Monday meeting between President Sirleaf and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"I expect the donor community will really rally around Liberia's reconstruction," said William Selah, a Monrovia journalist. "The devastation this country went through cannot be overemphasized. Our schools are down, the hospitals are down and public infrastructure was also badly degraded by the war, so the need to rehabilitate these areas is glaring."

But some Liberians are skeptical and remember, during the Cold War, the United States sent hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to a military dictatorship, while the well-being of the population worsened and civil war broke out.

Lewis Benson is a housewife. She hopes Liberian officials in Washington will have their priorities in line.

"We want all those who will be representing Liberia to not go for their own selfish ends, because that is how it has been. People just go for their own aim, [while] they carry the masses name," she said. "For this time, we are appealing to our leaders who are in higher positions to come to our aid, because we are suffering. It will at least improve our living conditions."

University of Liberia student Alice-Mae Wellington hopes special emphasis will be put on young people.

"It should be intended for the youths, and it should bring development to our country so that at least people will believe that we are waking up from our slumbers," she said.

In a recent report, the International Monetary Fund said Liberia's economic growth was estimated at seven percent ,last year, and that the government's 2006 to 2007 budget increased by 40 percent, compared to the previous year.