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Liberian President Tells VOA U.S. Aid Enhances Nation's Recovery

Liberian President speaks at February 16 press conference at VOA headquarters in Washington, DC

Washington, D.C., February 16, 2007 -- Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says that the U.S. government is taking a "strong leadership" role in helping her country undergo a "renaissance" after nearly two decades of civil war and promised Liberians that they will see continued improvements in the second year of her administration.

At a news conference today at the Voice of America headquarters in the nation's capital, President Johnson Sirleaf said U.S. officials pledged to help relieve Liberia's massive international debt, rebuild its economy, and strengthen its security.

The Liberian President, inaugurated a year ago as the first woman head of state democratically-elected in Africa, held a two-day series of meetings with President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and other top U.S. officials.

Specifically, she said, the Bush Administration has agreed to cancel a bilateral debt of more than 390 million dollars, and with other countries, including Germany and the United Kingdom, "assist in the settlement of $3.7 billion dollars" in international debt. She noted that the U-S government continues to provide Liberia with 100 million dollars in aid annually.

Ms. Johnson Sirleaf said she has also won assurances from the Bush Administration to help improve the nation's security forces, pointing out the impending exit of 13,000 United Nations peace-keeping forces and her concern that current strife in neighboring Guinea might escalate and spill over into her country.

Liberia is just beginning to recover from nearly 20 years of civil war, which lasted from 1989 to 2003 and virtually destroyed the nation's economy and infrastructure. Approximately 250,000 people died in the conflict, and 200,000 were displaced in and outside Liberia.

The Voice of America, which first went on the air in 1942, is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts more than 1,000 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 115 million people. Programs are produced in 45 languages.