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Liberia Welcomes Possible Peace Corps Volunteers Return After 20-Year Absence

United States and Liberian government officials say U.S. Peace Corps volunteers will return to Liberia nearly 20 years after they fled a civil war. A Liberian Foreign Ministry statement quotes U.S. Embassy Charge d'Affaires Brooks Robinson as saying the return is an important milestone which reflects Washington's confidence in Liberia's recovery and stability.

Cletus Sieh is Liberia's acting minister of information. He told VOA the U.S. Peace Corps volunteers are due in Liberia soon.

"I know it's going to be very soon, sometimes by the end of the month (August) or early next month. They're supposed to be returning to Liberia after President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made an appeal to President Bush and the U.S. government for the Peace Corps to come back to Liberia," he said.

Sieh said the return of the Peace Corps volunteers is an indication that conditions in Liberia are improving following 14 years of civil war.

"President Sirleaf for the past two years or so has been trying her best to make sure that Liberia is accepted into the comity of nations after the civil war we've gone through. And the goodwill of the international community, in particular the U.S. government has been there for her government. If you can recall, President Bush was here visiting Liberia, which had not happened in so many years. So when the president made this appeal, the U.S. government was able to respond in a positive way," Sieh said.

He said most of the returning Peace Corps volunteers would be serving in the classroom.

"Most of them are going to be in the academic area. Of course there will also be others that will be involved in the technical areas, especially in the areas of agriculture, engineering. And the bulk of them would be in the academic field, and let us not also forget in the area of health," he said.

Sieh said the Sirleaf government has taken several steps to encourage young people to enter the teaching field which he said has not appealing since the end of the civil war.

"Frankly speaking since the civil war ended the teaching field has not been attractive in Liberia in terms of the salary skill, and so a lot of people are attracted to the teaching field. Now what this government has done is to make sure that scholarships are provided through the William V.S. Tubman Teacher Training College and the opening up of (BWI) the Booker Washington Institute and other facilities to make sure that teachers are trained," he said.

Sieh agreed the Liberian government needed to do more to encourage Liberians to enter the teaching field, including salary incentives and tax breaks to teach in the rural areas.

"So far there are some incentives in this new budget that has been approved by the national legislature. Some incentives will be given especially to teachers in the rural areas, also nurses and doctors assigned in the rural areas so as to make the place attractive to them," Sieh said.

The Sirleaf government recently issued Executive Order No. 14 waving income tax on salary and wages of individuals with monthly earnings of US$70.00 or less.

Sieh said the government hopes such incentives would encourage more people to enter the teaching field.