updated 2/6/2004 11:56:20 AM ET 2004-02-06T16:56:20

Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed to international donors Friday for nearly $500 million to rebuild Liberia after 14 years of civil war, and said the country needs at least $100 million more for immediate humanitarian relief.

Annan opened the ministerial session of a two-day donors conference without U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose plane was delayed for more than two hours because of snow and rain and finally diverted from La Guardia to Kennedy airport. It finally landed about 10:15 a.m., a U.S. official said.

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 U.S. Agency for International Development, said donors are likely to come up with the money.

But Annan told donors that a $179 million U.N. humanitarian appeal to help Liberians has gone largely unfunded. U.N. officials said only $3 million for emergency humanitarian relief has been donated, along with food aid.

“It will be hard, if not impossible, for Liberians to start rebuilding their country while large numbers of war victims still lack the most basic necessities of life,” Annan said.

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.”

Speaking on behalf of Liberia, the country’s transitional leader, Gyude Bryant, acknowledged that corruption is still rife, but he said efforts to end it are under way.

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.

Bryant’s government is expected to arrange elections for late 2005 and cede power to a representative government in early 2006.

U.S. pushes for freeze on Taylor's assets
The United States wants to freeze all assets belonging to Taylor, a U.N. diplomat said early Friday.

Powell is expected to lobby Security Council members to support a new resolution that would freeze assets against Taylor, his family and associates, the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Taylor has been indicted by a U.N.-backed war-crimes court in neighboring Sierra Leone for backing its rebel movement, the Revolutionary United Front.

The U.N. Security Council in December voted unanimously 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 jungle city of Calabar, and other leaders of his government.

On the pledging front, the United States will announce $200 million for Liberia’s reconstruction, which is included in President Bush’s budget sent to Congress this week, Natsios said. The European Union is expected to pledge a similar amount and some already is in the pipeline, an EU official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Additional pledges are expected from French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, senior officials from Japan, Sweden and Britain. Representatives from about two dozen other countries in Asia, Africa and Europe who have signed up to speak.

After addressing the donors conference, Powell is scheduled to hold private talks with de Villepin, whose country led the opposition to the Iraq war, and then have lunch with him and the French ambassadors to the United States and the United Nations, Jean David Levitte and Jean-Marc de La Sabliere.

U.S. officials have stressed that Paris and Washington have worked together closely at the United Nations on a host of resolutions, most recently on tightening enforcement of sanctions against the Taliban and al-Qaida. But France wants the United States to support a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast, which Washington has been reluctant to do.

French President Jacques Chirac has stressed the importance of looking to the future, and this week he left open the possibility of NATO possibly playing a role in Iraq after the June 30 hand over of power to a transitional government.

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