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Uzbekistan to Open Vital Aid Route Into Afghanistan - 2001-12-08


Desperately-needed humanitarian aid will begin flowing into Afghanistan from neighboring Uzbekistan when a key connecting bridge is reopened on Sunday.

The reopening was announced by the leader of Uzbekistan after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, now on a trip through Central Asia.

For five years the so-called "Friendship Bridge" had been kept closed by Uzbek authorities for security reasons, and it was kept closed even after Taleban forces withdrew from the area last month.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov had been under intense pressure from international aid groups as supplies piled up near the border but were unable to cross into Afghanistan. The Uzbek leader confirmed the bridge reopening Saturday, at a news conference with Secretary Powell, who praised Uzbekistan for its role in supporting the war against terrorism in the region.

Mr. Powell is on an extended trip Central Asia to brief regional leaders and other officials on the next phase of the war. He said an international peacekeeping force, including troops from Britain and Germany, may soon be formed to go into Afghanistan.

Mr. Powell discussed the peacekeeping force at NATO headquarters during a stop in Brussels earlier this week.

The Friendship Bridge was the crucial link over which Soviet troops and supplies entered Afghanistan during the nine-year military intervention there during the 1980s. The defeated Soviet army made its way home over the same bridge in 1989.

The flow of international aid is also increasing across the border from neighboring Tajikistan, after the authorities there reopened another route into Afghanistan.

On Sunday a convoy of trucks carrying 250 tons of food and other supplies will be loaded onto ferries to cross the river which forms the border between the two countries. The aid is destined for Kabul, the Afghan capital.

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