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Afghanistan Concerned Over Shortage of Aid Funds - 2002-04-11

A two-day international donors meeting in the Afghan capital, Kabul, ended Thursday without a clear-cut answer to the interim government's request for immediate funding. The government said it is facing a cash shortage so severe, it could undermine the future of Afghanistan.

At the start of the meeting Wednesday, the Afghan interim government chairman, Hamid Karzai, bluntly told donor nations and aid agencies that if they did not come through with the money needed to run the government and for reconstruction, Afghanistan would again turn into a breeding ground for terrorism.

On Thursday, nine countries, Turkey, South Korea, India, Italy, Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Denmark, promised to deposit nearly $50 million into a World Bank-managed trust fund to enable the government to pay its bills.

That is still $35 million short of what the Karzai administration said it needs for the next three months to keep the government afloat. But Finance Minister Hedayat Amin-Arsala said he understands the international community's need to be convinced the government can handle aid money wisely.

"We are grateful for the additional support offered to us over these past two days by the international community. But we acknowledge firmly that this support can be as good as the promise we have made to ourselves. This is a promise to build a transparent and an accountable government," Mr. Amin-Arsala said.

The donors Thursday did not set a timetable for when the money would be deposited and made available. Government officials said they are hoping it will happen in the next two weeks.

But even if the money comes in on time, it will have to be used simply to keep up with salaries and day-to-day expenses of the administration. There will still be no money available for badly-needed reconstruction projects or to pay for national security - a situation which officials fear could turn Afghan hopes into anger and disappointment.

Without aid, Mr. Karzai said he has little hope of establishing central authority and improving security. But observers said donors are reluctant to hand over money to a government that has yet to bring security and stability to the country.

Only a fraction of the $4.5 billion pledged in January at the Tokyo aid conference has trickled in so far. Most of that has already been spent on emergency food and refugee assistance.