updated 2/10/2004 5:25:58 PM ET 2004-02-10T22:25:58

President Bush offered Liberia’s transitional leader assurances of U.S. support Tuesday as the African country begins to rebuild from 14 years of civil war.

Bush and Gyude Bryant had a low-key meeting in the Oval Office, after which Bryant said he thanked Bush “for helping us strengthen our fragile peace.” He said he also pledged to make the most of $520 million in reconstruction money promised last week during an international donor’s conference at the United Nations.

“We are very grateful, and we’ll show you that we’ll use your resources very well in building a new Liberia and a peaceful Liberia, at peace with itself and neighbors, and do all we can to help civilize that region in West Africa,” Bryant told reporters.

The United States pledged $200 million for Liberian reconstruction, a matter Secretary of State Colin Powell said may give Liberians “their last, best chance for peace, prosperity and democracy” after the civil war. The fighting killed more than 150,000 people.

The World Bank and the United Nations estimated that Liberia will need roughly $488 million over the next two years to meet its most pressing reconstruction needs. Bryant said Monday his country is so devastated that it essentially must start over.

Roads that farmers once used to take their crops to market must be rebuilt, and the main hospital in Monrovia will need millions of dollars to recover from being “massively looted,” Bryant said. The water supply system, electricity grids, schools, public buildings, private homes and, in some cases, entire villages, lie in ruin, he added.

“Most of these were either wantonly destroyed by fighters ... in search of the spoils of war or left to deteriorate for lack of maintenance during the long conflict years,” Bryant said. “Indeed, our civil war has subjected (the) U.S.-Liberian relationship to a severe test. We are only now emerging from the terrible state of shock.”

Liberia was established by freed American slaves before the United States’ own civil war. It began to rebuild after President Charles Taylor went into exile in Nigeria last August. Taylor’s departure cleared the way for a power-sharing deal between his government and rebels.

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

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