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Letter: Third World debts

Sir: As a cheerleader for the G8, Andreas Whittam Smith cuts a rather curious figure ("The campaign for Third World debt relief is counter- productive," 19 May). The man who championed inquisitive journalism now thinks the world's richest countries are best left to consider quietly how much debt relief should be delivered to the world's poorest, without expressions of public concern from the likes of Jubilee 2000.

Debt cancellation is not best left as "the stuff of intricate negotiations". The issue has bounced around the corridors of creditor power for years. But the best the current initiative can deliver - in the case of Mozambique - is an extra 27p per person each year.

Mr Whittam Smith says a good campaign needs clear, unambiguous facts. That is why Jubilee 2000 emphasises two key points. The concept of limited liability, which protects creditors, but also debtors and their families, does not apply in international debts. The sons and daughters of the new Zaire are not protected from the sins of their ex-President Mobutu, who was lent $13.5bn by the West.

Secondly, unlimited liability falls on the ordinary people of debtor countries. If private banks make bad loans to private banks in Thailand, the international financial system protects them. The IMF steps in, forces the Thai government to nationalise the banks and bails out the bankers. The burden falls on the taxpayers of Thailand - and the most likely to get hurt are the children of those taxpayers, whose health, clean water and sanitation services are cut by governments. This, as Oxfam argues, is most certainly a violation of children's rights.


Director, Jubilee 2000 coalition

London SE1