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Response at Liberia Aid Conference Better Than Expected


U.N. officials say a two-day Liberia reconstruction conference has drawn a greater than expected donor response. The goal of raising nearly $500 million is likely to be surpassed.

As the Liberia reconstruction conference drew to a close Friday, U.N. Development Group Chairman Mark Malloch Brown was ecstatic. "This is an enormously strong start. Way ahead of all the forecasts," he said.

The exact amount of the pledges is hard to calculate, but the combined pledges of the United States and the European Union amount to $400 million. That is more than 80 percent of the goal.

The conference to help rebuild Liberia after 14 years of war is one of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's priorities. Mr. Annan, himself a West African, has regularly expressed deep concern for the region's stability.

Delivering the opening address to the conference, Mr. Annan called the end of civil war "Liberia's moment of hope."

"Let us all seize this opportunity to end a long-running nightmare that has disgraced humankind. Let us consolidate the peace, and make the peace process irreversible," he said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell also delivered an impassioned plea for help. Mr. Powell, another driving force behind the conference, made clear that the example of Liberia is intended as a message to other countries in the region.

"With peace in Liberia," he said, "and progress in Cote d'Ivoire and progress in Sierra Leone and progress in Sudan and progress continues in the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea that's now on it's way to settlement once the border is resolved, with some movement in Somalia, we see a number of these conflict areas coming under control."

But while Secretary-General Annan and Secretary of State Powell drew attention, the star of the show was clearly Gyude Bryant, the Liberian businessman who is leading the effort to rebuild his country. He received rare applause and an almost unheard of standing ovation for his speech to the reconstruction conference.

"A peaceful Liberia will have a stabilizing impact on the sub-region... We are inspired and resolved and determined to rebuild Liberia," he said.

On the sidelines of the donor conference Friday, U.S. and Liberian officials declined to comment on reports they will ask the U.N. Security Council to freeze the assets of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor.

Mr. Taylor went into exile in Nigeria last August. He has been accused of stealing millions of dollars in state assets during his rule. He was also indicted by a U.N. backed war crimes tribunal for his role in arming rebels in Sierra Leone through a guns-for-diamonds scheme in the 1990s.