A worldwide coalition of religious leaders is joining a campaign for the cancellation of the international debts of developing nations.

"Debt reduction can bring good to the populations of rich as well as poor countries," says Bill Peters, vice president of Jubilee 2000, which is calling on the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other international creditors to set aside the foreign debt of developing countries.

The problem is especially acute in Africa, where about 20 countries owe more than $220 billion to foreign creditors. In Zambia, for example, the government owes $7.1 billion and spends more on debt service than on education and health services for its people, 70 percent of whom live in poverty.

Zambian Christians recently issued a joint statement calling for debt cancellation, saying the country's total debt is unpayable and hurts mostly the poor. Jubilee 2000 openly connects its goal of debt remission with scriptural mandates for the celebration of jubilee as a universal time to clear unpayable debts.

Under the Jubilee 2000 plan, debts would be forgiven on a sliding scale with 100 percent remission for countries with the poorest economies.

Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican, and Roman Catholic organizations have been signing on to lobby internationally for the effort.

"Jubilee symbolizes a fresh start for the poor and re-establishes justice and equity in the world," says Joan Harper, chair of the Office of Justice and Peace of the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Jubilee 2000 reasons that the dozens of international financial institutions that originally loaned the money should now forgive the debts because: the rescheduling of loan payments has failed; debtor countries have learned hard lessons from the debt crisis; and life-saving services for the poor could be restored if debt service was curtailed.

Peters, a retired British diplomat, says, "The concept of jubilee is firmly rooted in Judeo-Christian thought. [It is] a time not only for leveling inequalities, but also for rejoicing and celebrating the start of a new phase with past obstacles to community swept away."

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