January 9, 2009 / 2:56 PM / 11 years ago

Liberia sees Paris Club deals done in 3 months

PARIS (Reuters) - Liberia expects to conclude bilateral deals with its Paris Club creditors in three months and then it will start commercial debt talks, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf told Reuters on Friday.

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf speaks on a phone as she arrives for a dinner for the 63rd United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, September 23, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young

Liberia reached agreement with the Paris Club of sovereign creditors last April to cancel $254 million of its debt and reschedule some $789 million.

The country then had to reach agreement with the individual creditor countries involved in the deal.

Asked how this was going, she said: “It is going very well. We have already concluded agreements with many of the bilaterals in the Paris Club and we expect in another three months we will finish and then we will be tackling our commercial debt.”

Johnson-Sirleaf, the first woman to be elected president of an African country, took office in 2006 promising to rebuild the country after a ruinous civil war.

Investor and business confidence in Liberia has increased since Johnson-Sirleaf, a former World Bank official, took over.

She has vowed zero tolerance for corruption as part of a drive to woo donors and investors to help rebuild the country following the 1989-2003 conflict.

Liberia, Africa’s oldest independent republic, was founded in the 19th century by freed black slaves from America.

The International Monetary Fund and World Bank last year cleared Liberia’s entry into a global debt relief program, a vital step towards cancelling the country’s $4.7 billion debts.

The West African state borders Guinea, where a junta seized power on December 23 following the death of autocratic President Lansana Conte, who had ruled since 1984.

West African regional bloc ECOWAS on Friday urged the junta to hold elections by the end of the year, adding to international calls for a return to constitutional order in the world’s top bauxite exporter.

Asked what kind of pressure should be put on the junta to hold elections, Johnson-Sirleaf said: “I don’t think it’s a question of pressure. I think it’s a question of engagement.”

“ECOWAS is engaging the new government to work out with them how we can pursue a democratic path and Liberia as a member of ECOWAS is working with all of the other countries.”

She said it was a question of helping “the new government to get on the right path.”

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