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Bern assures support for rebuilding Liberia

Johnson-Sirleaf discussed bilateral relations with Swiss president Moritz Leuenberger Keystone

Swiss president Moritz Leuenberger has pledged Switzerland's support for Liberia in its quest to rebuild itself after 14 years of civil war.

This content was published on March 7, 2006 - 21:52

Leuenberger made the assurance after holding talks with the West African country's new president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who was in Switzerland on Tuesday.

"I'm very happy that the president of Liberia has come here, underlying the importance I attach to developing ties with Africa during my presidency this year," Leuenberger told a media conference.

Leuenberger went on to say that Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa's first woman president, was a fearless and tireless politician. He described her as "a symbol of the hope and confidence" for her country's future.

"I've assured the president of Liberia of the full support of Switzerland in the reconstruction efforts, particularly in the field of infrastructure and school buildings."

Over the past ten years, Switzerland has donated about SFr25 million ($19.3 million) in humanitarian emergency assistance to Liberia. This year SFr4 million has been set aside.

The details of further cooperation and other topics were on the agenda between Johnson-Sirleaf and Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey during a working lunch.

Potential

For her part, Johnson-Sirleaf thanked Switzerland for its past support, adding that she had encouraged the Swiss president to look at Liberia's potential.

She also urged Swiss private investors, who have already helped finance a beer factory in Liberia, to look into other areas, including minerals and rubber.

"Our obligation and challenge is to respond to the needs of our people to build a stable, reconciled and prosperous country," she told reporters.

At least 250,000 people were killed in the conflict in Liberia, which also drove almost one million people from their homes. The country has been left in economic ruin and is overrun with weapons.

About 15,000 United Nations peacekeepers are still ensuring calm in the country.

Priorities

Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated economist and veteran politician, said that her priorities were education and jobs.

The former World Bank official said she had begun revamping the government, placing an emphasis on democracy and an eventual reduction of the country's debt.

Peacekeeping forces are projected to stay for the next three to four years, she added.

Leuenberger said that Switzerland would be willing to help with the reintegration of refugees and child soldiers.

Asked whether there were any Liberian funds in Swiss bank accounts, Leuenberger said he wasn't aware of any, but if it should prove to be the case, Switzerland would be willing to cooperate.

"The fight against corruption is the be-all and end-all of all democratic systems," he said.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

In brief

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was in Switzerland for talks on bilateral relations, the situation in Liberia, and other regional and international themes.

On the agenda of the working lunch with Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey was the fight against corruption, the situation of women in Liberia and the planned United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Johnson-Sirleaf has already held talks with the European Union this week. On Wednesday she is due to be the keynote speaker at a Unesco event for International Women's Day.

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Key facts

Liberia has a population of 3.6 million.
Life expectancy is 41 years for men and 43 for women.
Illiteracy and unemployment are estimated at 80% (UN).
The country's main exports are diamonds, iron ore, rubber, timber, coffee and cocoa.
Per capita income is $110 a year.

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