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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 February 2006, 20:59 GMT
Russia 'may cancel African debt'
Zambian woman
Zambia could be one of the countries included in the deal
Russia may soon write off debts owed to it by 16 of the world's poorest countries, its finance minister has been reported as saying.

Moscow would be willing to cancel about $688m (575m euros; 394m) in bilateral debt, Russian news agency RIA-Novosti quoted Alexei Kudrin as saying.

The agreement could encompass a number of African countries including Benin, Tanzania and Zambia.

Russia is already considering writing off $10bn owed by Afghanistan.

Certain conditions

Moscow said on Monday it could forgive Afghanistan's debt if it agreed to take steps to reduce poverty and boost trade with creditor nations.

According to RIA-Novosti, Mr Kudrin said he would soon seek government approval for the cancellation of debts to 16 other nations.

Similarly, the agreement is likely to hinge on the countries concerned meeting certain conditions.

Alexei Kudrin, Russian finance minister
According to Alexei Kudrin, Russia could repay more of its own debt

"The main condition for writing off these countries' debt to Russia will be their agreement to fulfil certain requirements regarding the transparency of their finances, budget expenditures and poverty reduction," Mr Kudrin was quoted as saying.

Russia is also reported to be considering repayment of more of its own debt to the Paris Club of wealthy, creditor nations.

Mr Kudrin told Associated Press that Russia could repay up to $12bn of debt in the next six months.

High oil prices have boosted Russia's public finances, enabling the world's second largest oil exporter to clear part of its huge Soviet-era debt.

Last year it repaid $15bn to the Paris Club - whose members include the United States, United Kingdom, France and Japan - using revenues from oil sales.

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