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Georgia: International Donors Conference Opens In Brussels

Brussels, 16 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- An international donors conference for Georgia opened this morning in Brussels.

Held under the aegis of the World Bank and hosted by the European Union, the event brings together potential donors from dozens of nations, among them EU member states, the United States, Japan, and Russia.

The Georgian government has said it expects pledges to reach 485 million euros for the period 2004 to 2006.

Opening the event, the EU's external relations commissioner, Chris Patten, said the international community must seize the opportunity to assist Georgia.

"We cannot afford to await the success of the reforms before offering our support,” he said. “We should commit ourselves now to assisting Georgia, since the next three years will be crucial in determining the future course of the country."

The European Commission has said it will pledge 125 million euros ($150 million), which officials say is likely to be the largest contribution. It will also double the bloc's previous assistance to the country.

However, Patten warned that the support will be conditional on continued reforms. He also underlined the EU's strengthening engagement with regard to Georgia.

Referring to the two remaining South Caucasus countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Patten said the EU will treat each country "on its individual merits" within its European Neighborhood Policy.

Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania promised his country will consolidate the reform policies launched by President Mikheil Saakashvili in the wake of the “Rose Revolution” seven months ago.

Addressing donors this morning, Zhvania said Georgia aims to become self-sustainable and that it will make a clean break with the "donor addiction" prevalent before.

"We want to change completely this philosophy. And the first thing I want to convey as the main message from President Saakashvili, from myself, from our cabinet, is that we want to use this degree of your support to stop these practices and move towards a situation when Georgia will not any longer be dependent on international assistance," Zhvania said.

Zhvania said his government wants donors to support projects aimed at reforming Georgia's administration, cutting law-enforcement personnel, rehabilitating the country's energy sector and infrastructure, and funding social benefits.

He said Georgia also expects donors to prioritize the reintegration of regions such as Adjara. The European Commission has said that -- in addition to today's pledge -- another grant for 12 million euros will go for the rehabilitation of areas affected by the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Calling on donors to contribute generously, the World Bank's regional vice president, Shigeo Katsu, said Georgia has all the preconditions necessary for success.

"Georgia is blessed with abundant natural resources, geographical advantage as a major transit route, and most importantly, a talented, energetic and engaging population with a rich history and diverse cultural heritage," he said.

Katsu said that, in the light of the reforms undertaken by the Georgian government, the World Bank is "optimistic about the outlook for economic growth" in the country.

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