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UN meeting seeks $488 million to rebuild Liberia
Updated: 2004-02-06 14:59

International aid officials called on governments and relief groups on Thursday to pledge $488 million to help rebuild Liberia or risk letting the war-shattered West African nation slip back into chaos.

Unless a new government in Monrovia is promptly backed up with outside funding, civil war could again spill over into neighboring countries in an already unstable region, the officials told a U.N. conference on Liberian reconstruction.

"After 14 years of conflict in which tens of thousands of people have been killed, and the continued political, economic and social disorder the country has endured, there is now the possibility of new hope for the people of Liberia," said Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the U.N. Development Program.

"But it is a fragile peace and urgent action is now needed to help ensure that the gains that have been made toward Liberia's recovery are not reversed," Malloch Brown said.

The fighters who recently rioted outside Monrovia because of a shortage of money for a U.N.-backed disarmament program "were not to be placated with the line, 'Wait for the donors meeting in New York,"' he said.

Liberia, founded by freed American slaves, has entered a period of relative stability since a peace deal reached in August, when President Charles Taylor went into exile, clearing the way for a power-sharing deal with anti-government rebels.


A U.N. peacekeeping force is taking shape and a newly installed transitional government is in power until October 2005 elections select a new president and legislature.

The United Nations, the United States and the World Bank are among the sponsors of the two-day conference that opened on Thursday in hopes of meeting Liberia's needs over the next two years in such key areas as agriculture, fisheries, health, education, forestry and telecommunications.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, and the head of the new provisional government, Gyude Bryant, are among world leaders attending the meeting.

Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said Liberia's years of turmoil had killed as many as 250,000 people, most of them civilians, but had touched all its 3 million people "in profound ways."

"More than 1.3 million are displaced or refugees. Abductions, tortures, rape and other human rights atrocities have taken place on a massive scale," he said.

An estimated one in 10 children may have been recruited by militias as fighters and a similar percentage "has been traumatized by seeing their families and friends murdered or raped," Natsios said.

Washington has already earmarked $200 million in new money for Liberia, and the European Union and its 15 member-nations are expected to nearly match that figure, U.N. officials said.

One major challenge on the agenda is how to rehabilitate the thousands of armed youth without education or jobs who roam the countryside and neighboring nations, raping and looting.

"There are instances where young boys have shot their mothers, because their mothers said, 'Go to school and put the gun down,"' Liberian transition leader Gyude Bryant told a luncheon at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.

"These kids were so high that they shot their mothers' heads off," Bryant said.

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