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22mln dollars for Zimbabwe

HARARE, May 18 – The World Bank said on Monday it would give 22 million US dollars to Zimbabwe but said the country must clear its long-standing arrears to qualify for more aid to rebuild its shattered economy.

"We are talking of some 22 million which should be available within the next two weeks or month," Toga Gayewea McIntosh, executive director of the World Bank\’s Africa group, told reporters in the capital Harare.

"This is the first step. This is a nation in arrears, a nation in crisis," he said, without giving details on the grants which are the first for Zimbabwe from the World Bank since the formation of a unity government three months ago.

McIntosh said the Bank would be prepared to discuss a more "substantial amount of money" if Zimbabwe made progress toward clearing its arrears.

"The first task is to see how Zimbabwe can get on with debt reduction," he said.

McIntosh also welcomed the country\’s economic recovery programme unveiled in March, saying it needed more support.

Zimbabwe owes the World Bank and the African Development Bank 1.4 billion dollars, the Paris Club three billion dollars, while external debt is currently five billion dollars, according to Finance Minister Tendai Biti.

"The first issue is the issue of arrears and debt clearance," Biti told the same news conference.

Biti said technical assistance from the Bank would help Zimbabwe repair its crumbling infrastructure.

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Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who joined a unity government with long-ruling President Robert Mugabe on February 15, has said his priority is to get the economy back on track.

Since February, Zimbabwe has appealed for 8.5 billion dollars to revive its economy, decimated by years of hyperinflation, but funding so far has come from African institutions which have availed more than a billion dollars in credits to the private sector.

Most Western nations have ruled out immediate economic assistance to Zimbabwe, saying they wanted to see real reforms on the ground.

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