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More Than High Finance

No cash in Rwanda and other topics are all fair fodder for the annual IMF-World Bank meeting

TTHE complex in suburban Madrid where the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank are holding their joint annual meeting this week is called Campo de las Naciones - field of nations. It is aptly named. About 15,000 delegates, journalists, guests (mostly bankers), and staff from as many as 179 nations are milling about several buildings.

The world's affairs are constantly intruding on the scene. Sitting next to me, waiting to confirm a departing flight, the minister of finance of Rwanda, Marc Rugenera, has a problem: His government has no paper currency.

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``All the bills have been stolen,'' he says. When the previous government fled to Zaire after losing the civil war, it took huge stacks of currency from the central bank vault.

Francois Kanimba, a Rwandan planning official also in line, guesses as much as 20 billion Rwandan francs were carted away, worth about $135 million at the pre-civil war exchange rate. He says he doesn't know precisely because the former government took the keys to the ``strong room'' and the new Tutsi-led government of the Rwandan Patriotic Front has not been able to open it to see what cash remains.

The stacks of currency are now held by the Commercial Bank of Zaire, with access denied to both the old and the new government. ``We hope they will give back those bills,'' Mr. Rugenera says. ``If not, we will put out a new currency.''

Rugenera's government is negotiating for the return of the money, but it is tied up in talks over how the thousands of Rwandan refugees in Zaire can be encouraged to go home.

Both Rugenera and Mr. Kanimba held positions in the old government. Both are Hutu tribe members. And both say they had no role in the massacre and civil war, which has driven about one-half of the nation's population into exile in neighboring countries.

Rugenera says he would like to get new financing from the IMF. ``It must be a very high amount because of the destruction of the war,'' he says.

Prior to the strife that broke out in April, Rwanda had drawn down most of a three-year, $300 million ``structural adjustment loan'' from the fund.

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An IMF official notes that the fund does not make loans to nations in a civil-war situation. It waits for the return of stability and a government in clear control. Nonetheless, Rugenera says, an IMF official mission will visit Rwanda Oct. 15.

In this microcosm of the world, other echos from the outside are heard. The Norwegian minister of finance wasn't expected to show up because negotiations are under way to form a government, a Norwegian journalist explains.

The Germans have a federal election on Oct. 16 and Finance Minister Theo Waigel headed for home and the campaign trail on Sunday night.

Most of the speeches by various finance ministers seem intended as much for a home audience, reported by their domestic press, as for the delegates here. Many press briefings are restricted to nationals.

On the periphery of the conference is a never-ending sideshow of meals and mini-conferences to fete visiting bankers. South Africa, Chile, and China are quite visibly fishing for new investment.

In a single day, a visitor could take breakfast with Brazilian Central Bank officials, lunch with the Chinese, attend an evening reception hosted by Banque Internale de Luxemburg at the Casino de Madrid, and end with a late-night Spanish serenade and cocktail party sponsored by the Bankgesellschaft Berlin.

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