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Afghan Leader Tells Provinces to Pay Up on Customs Revenues

Afghanistan's interim president, Hamid Karzai, met with 12 provincial governors in Kabul to demand that the provinces pay the central government millions of dollars in customs revenues. The money is needed to keep Afghanistan's fledgling government operating.

Since taking power nearly 18 months ago, President Hamid Karzai has struggled to control Afghanistan's regional warlords and governors, who are reluctant to send customs revenue to the central government.

Afghan finance ministry officials estimate that customs revenue exceeded $500 million last year, but less than 20 percent reached Kabul.

President Karzai summoned the governors to the capital to demand they hand over all of their customs revenues to the central government.

A spokesman for the Afghan president is quoted as saying that during the meeting the provincial heads all promised to deliver the money. He said the funds will enable the government to pay civil servants and soldiers, who reportedly have not been paid for the past couple of months.

The spokesman said it was also agreed that no province could spend customs revenue for its own needs.

Officials of Mr. Karzai's administration allege that regional leaders who control border provinces are using millions of dollars in customs duties to fund militia that they personally control. Some of those militias present a threat to Mr. Karzai's government, and make it difficult for the government to expand its control beyond Kabul.

The meeting in Kabul took place after President Karzai threatened to quit unless regional administrations sent customs duties to his government.

The governors of western Herat and southern Kandahar provinces allegedly earn millions of dollars from duty on trade with neighboring Iran and Pakistan. But they have forwarded little to Kabul.

President Karzai has promised that if provincial authorities cooperate with his government, much of the tax income will be redistributed to the provinces.