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US urges IMF to cancel some debt of Ebola-hit countries

[WASHINGTON] The United States has asked the International Monetary Fund to cancel US$100 million of the debts of the three West African countries devastated by the Ebola outbreak.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will propose the debt relief program for Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea at this week's G20 meeting in Brisbane, according to a statement obtained by AFP Wednesday.

"The International Monetary Fund has already played a critical role as a first responder, providing economic support to countries hardest hit by Ebola," Mr Lew said.

"Today we are asking the IMF to expand that support by providing debt relief for Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. IMF debt relief will promote economic sustainability in the worst hit countries by freeing up resources for both immediate needs and longer-term recovery efforts." Commercial, industrial and agricultural activities have stalled in the three poor countries in the face of the epidemic, which has killed around 5,000, according to the World Health Organization.

"These economic impacts will likely increase and continue until confidence rebounds, underpinning the need to free up resources to contain Ebola, to support vulnerable communities and critical government services, and to restore economic growth," the US Treasury said.

Mr Lew's proposal is to tap into the IMF's Post-Catastrophe Debt Relief Trust (PCDR) used to fully cancel Haiti's US$268 million debt to the IMF in the wake of the 2010 earthquake catastrophe on the Caribbean island.

The Treasury pointed out that the PCDR still has US$150 million, two-thirds of which it proposed could be put toward debt relief for the three West African countries.