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Bush Calls on Nations to Cancel Liberia's Debt

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Wednesday met with President Bush, who after forgiving Monrovia's debt, called on other creditors to ease the west African country's debt burden. VOA's Marissa Melton reports from Washington.

The Liberian and U.S. presidents held a short meeting at the White House Wednesday as a Liberia donors' conference concluded nearby at the headquarters of the World Bank.

This was their second meeting since Ms. Johnson Sirleaf took office a little over a year ago.

President Bush at a news conference after the meeting, called on other nations to follow the U.S. example and forgive Liberia's debt. He also announced a new initiative aimed at helping international organizations ease Liberia's debt burden. "Today we're announcing an initiative where the Treasury Department is providing monies so the IMF and other international lending institutions will have the confidence to go forward to help relieve the obligations of Liberia. You want to give this young country a chance to succeed by eliminating some of the interest obligations and burdens, so there's room to grow," he said.

Liberia's obligations to other countries and international lending institutions, which total three-point-seven billion dollars, are some eight times the size of the country's annual economic output. It is up to IMF member countries to approve the debt relief initiative.

Ms. Johnson Sirleaf thanked president Bush for his support and described some of her country's progress over the past year. She said after making first steps on some major goals, such as establishing security and beginning to rebuild the country's infrastructure, Liberians are ready for the next phase of growth. "And the next phase is to do even more. Get our kids back in school, create jobs for our people, open up our economy, restart our mines and our forestry sector and our agriculture, get our refugees and our displaced people back in their villages and their communities, on their farms, producing for self-sufficiency. All these things are beginning to happen," she said.

But, she said, those improvements would be much easier to accomplish without the crippling debt burden. She said because Liberia is behind on its loan payments to the World Bank and IMF, it cannot take advantage of aid programs designed to help very poor countries.

On Thursday, members of the Liberian delegation will participate in a private sector investment forum. Liberian officials will try to persuade potential investors to put money into their country.

Participants are expected to discuss a broad range of sectors, including oil and gas exploration, gold and diamond mining, the rebuilding of Liberia's roads and electrical grid and partnering with Liberian businesses.