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Sierra Leone Cancels China-funded Project

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  • Sierra Leone Cancels China-funded Project

    The Sierra Leone government has cancelled a $400m (304m) Chinese-funded project to build a new airport outside the capital Freetown.

    Former President Ernest Bai Koroma signed the loan agreement with China before he lost elections in March.

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    At the time, the World Bank and the IMF warned that the project would impose a heavy debt burden.

    China is now the single largest bilateral financier of infrastructure in Africa - surpassing the African Development Bank (ADB), the European Commission, the European Investment Bank, the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank and the Group of Eight (G8) countries combined.

    Critics say China is luring countries into debt traps by lending them money for massive infrastructure projects.

    Meanwhile, Sierra Leone's decision to cancel the loan comes amid concern that many African countries risk defaulting on their debts to China.

    Aviation Minister Kabineh Kallon told the BBC that the project, which was due to have been completed in 2022, wasn't necessary and the country's current international airport would be renovated instead.

    He said current President Julius Maada Bio "didn't see any need for Mamamah [the proposed airport]" and was considering building a bridge from the capital to Lungi airport - the only international airport in the country. Currently passengers need to get a boat or helicopter to reach Freetown.

    Mr Kallon said he did not know whether the cancelled contract would lead to financial implications, and Sierra Leone remained on good terms with China.

    "I do have the right to take the best decision for the country," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

    China's ambassador to Sierra Leone, Wu Peng, told the BBC that relations would not sour between the two countries.

    "I don't think the airport project should affect our future bilateral relations," he said.