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Ivory Coast asks France to cancel 2.9 bln euros debt

10 September 2013, 11:13

Ivory Coast - Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara has asked France to cancel the West African nation's remaining 2.9 billion euros of outstanding debt to its biggest creditor, a government spokesman said on Monday.

Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa grower, won a more than $4 billion cut in its debt last year under an International Monetary Fund and World Bank scheme, including some debt to France, its former colonial master.

That leaves it with 2.9 billion euros in debt to France, which was due to be converted into financing for development projects under a bilateral agreement.

Cancelling that debt outright would give Ivory Coast a free hand to direct its development policy, communications minister Bruno Kone told Reuters.

"We are currently forced to make a certain number of concessions instead of investing in the sectors that we judge to be our priorities," he said.

Kone said Ouattara had requested "the cancellation pure and simple" of the remaining debt during a recent meeting with French President Francois Hollande.

"We are now awaiting a positive response from France," he said.

France's foreign and finance ministries did not immediately respond to Reuters' requests for comment.

Under the debt-conversion deal with France, 630 million euros are to be invested by 2015 in projects ranging from education and health to agriculture, urban development and justice. Other projects will be agreed over the remaining 15-period of the agreement.

If the debt is cancelled and the conversion agreement scrapped, Ivory Coast will need to find new financing for any projects it plans.

Ivory Coast's economy accounts for about 40 percent of French-speaking West Africa's GDP and was the region's economic engine before a decade of political turmoil and armed conflict.

The crisis ended in 2011 in a brief civil war that saw Ouattara, a former IMF official, emerge as president.

After years of stagnation, Ivory Coast's economy is growing again, with a 9.8 percent expansion last year. The government has mapped out a development plan of heavy investment in long-neglected infrastructure to keep the economic revival going.

- Reuters


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