U.S. to Forgive Liberia's $391 Million Debt

The Bush administration plans to forgive Liberia's $391 million debt to the United States, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told an international conference on Tuesday.

"We will cancel that debt, all of it," Rice said in a speech to a World Bank gathering of international development experts and delegates from at least 20 countries.

With Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf seated nearby, Rice said the reduced debt burden should enable Liberia to devote more resources to reconstruction and development.

The country's $3.7 billion overall debt is something that "today's leadership and today's people of Liberia do not deserve," Rice said, a pointed reminder that it is a burden that authoritarian rulers of the past quarter century were responsible for.

Turning to Sirleaf, Rice said, "We have every intention of helping you succeed."

In her remarks to the gathering, Sirleaf warned that armed conflict could return to her country if the international community does not act quickly to assist her year-old government in broad-based reconstruction efforts.

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz said Sirleaf had nothing to do with Liberia's huge debt. He said the blame rests with predecessors, "who are infamous for good reason." He referred to former presidents Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor, who dominated the country's politics in the mostly chaotic 1980 to 2003 period.

Wolfowitz said 20 years of civil war claimed the lives of some 250,000 Liberians.