UNITED NATIONS -- Secretary of State Colin L. Powell pledged $200 million yesterday to start rebuilding Liberia after 14 years of civil war, and urged the world community to help Liberians seize what may be "their last, best chance for peace."
Calling the United States Liberia's "best and oldest friend," Powell told a high-level donors conference that Washington will support international efforts "to build a future of hope" for Liberians.
"This promising moment is not likely to come again, and the people of Liberia need our collective help to seize this moment," he said.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan opened the session with an appeal to international donors for nearly $500 million for Liberia's reconstruction -- and at least $100 million more to meet its immediate humanitarian needs.
"Let us all seize this moment to end this long-running nightmare that has disgraced humankind," he said. "Let us consolidate the peace, and make the peace process irreversible."
Ireland's development minister, Thomas Kitt, speaking on behalf of the European Union, echoed Annan's appeal, saying, "We now have a real opportunity to end the agony of Liberia and its people."
The West African nation is trying to rebuild following President Charles Taylor's flight into exile in August, which cleared the way for a power-sharing deal between his government and rebels after 14 years of fighting that claimed more than 150,000 lives. The new government is expected to arrange elections for late 2005 and cede power to a representative government in early 2006.
Speaking on behalf of Liberia, the country's transitional leader, Gyude Bryant, said that corruption is still rife, but he said efforts were being made to end it.
Powell is expected to lobby Security Council members during his New York visit to support a new resolution that would freeze assets against Taylor, his family, and associates, a UN diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Taylor has been indicted by a UN-backed war-crimes court in neighboring Sierra Leone for supporting its vicious rebel movement, the Revolutionary United Front.
The UN Security Council voted unanimously in December to maintain sanctions against Liberia, including an arms embargo and a ban on importing Liberian diamonds or timber. It also kept a travel ban on Taylor, who lives in the Nigerian city of Calabar, and other leaders of his government. The World Bank and the United Nations estimate that $487.7 million is needed over the next two years to meet Liberia's most urgent reconstruction needs. Andrew Natsios, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, said donors are likely to come up with the money. The European Union is also expected to pledge about $200 million, an EU official said on condition of anonymity.