Britain to cancel debts of 41 poor countries


Britain announced Saturday that it would forgive more than 1 billion pounds (US$1.43 billion) in debt from 41 of the world’s poorest countries — provided they can ensure the money goes toward health care, education and alleviating poverty.

Treasury chief Gordon Brown said the move would help create a “virtuous circle of debt relief, poverty reduction and sustainable economic development.”

Brown’s office said 12 nations, including Cameroon, Honduras and Senegal, would have their debt payments written off immediately, while another eight were likely to meet the government’s criteria by the end of the year.

A further 21 countries that are involved in violent conflict or have failed to meet the criteria will have their payments held in trust and returned to them once they qualify.

“It is one of the tragedies of this jubilee year that so many countries in Africa are involved in wars, and of course, you have no guarantee that debt relief will not go to the weapons of war rather than poverty reduction,” Brown told the British Broadcasting Corp (BBC).

“What we are proposing to do today is renounce our right to any benefit from these debt interest payments, to put this money aside,” he added. “When these countries get their poverty reduction programs in place, we will backdate the payments to them.”

Brown was scheduled to outline the plan at a Saturday afternoon rally in London organized by the Jubilee 2000 campaign.

Activists, including rock star Bob Geldof, planned to light a flame in Trafalgar Square to symbolize the need to continue to press the G-7 group of wealthy industrialized nations to relieve Third World debt.

Last year the world’s richest countries agreed to cancel US$100 billion in debt from 41 heavily indebted poor countries, but Jubilee 2000 estimates that US$300 billion owed by 52 countries must be scrapped to end the debt crisis.