International donors convene at U.N. headquarters in New York Thursday for a two-day meeting aimed at raising nearly $500 million for post-war reconstruction in Liberia. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will address the conference on Friday.
The $487 million being sought for Liberia is a relatively small sum compared to the billions raised at recent donor meetings for Afghanistan and Iraq.
But U.S. officials say the damage inflicted on Liberia by 14 years of nearly non-stop civil warfare may have been proportionately worse than the other conflicts which received more world attention.
The fighting between armies loyal to ousted President Charles Taylor and rebel groups killed an estimated 250,000 people, most of them civilian non-combatants.
Almost half the country's surviving population, of just over three million people, are now either internally displaced or refugees in nearby West African countries, including Ivory Coast, Guinea and Ghana.
At a news conference, the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development Andrew Natsios said the war turned what was once a middle-income African country into a "failed state" with a traumatized populace, especially the thousands of children who were conscripted into the rival armies.
But Mr. Natsios says the current truce and power-sharing deal, enforced by ten thousand U.N. peacekeepers, offers the best opportunity in years to restore a functioning government in Liberia and end related regional instability. He says the donors meeting sponsored by the U.N. and the United States will be critical to that process.
"An enormous effort will be required by the entire international community, together in a coordinated way, to conquer the tremendous obstacles to reconstituting the country," he said. "This is the best chance I think Liberia's had in a very long time toward taking advantage of this period to begin the general process of reconstituting a competent national government that provides public services instead of being predatory. Critical to this whole effort is successful disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration of former combatants."
Mr. Natsios said the United States already spent or committed nearly $250 million for peacekeeping and humanitarian aid for Liberia, and will pledge an additional $200 million for reconstruction at the New York conference.
That sum, more than 40 percent of the donor meeting's goal, has already been approved by Congress as part of a recent supplemental spending package mainly for Iraq.
The European Union has announced a $120 million pledge, leaving nearly $170 million still to be raised from other donors.
The meeting will be attended by foreign ministers or other cabinet-level officials from the United States, Japan, Western Europe and many African countries, along with a team of officials from Liberia's transitional government led by its chairman, Gyude Bryant.
Secretary of State Colin Powell will go to New York Friday to address the second session of the conference, and he'll also hold bilateral meetings there with, among others, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who will head his country's delegation.