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Japan May Pledge $500 Million to Afghanistan - 2002-01-16

Japanese government officials say Tokyo could donate as much as half-a-billion dollars to help rebuild Afghanistan's shattered economy. The offer is expected to come during a conference on reconstructing the war-torn nation that opens in Tokyo on Monday.

If Japan pledges $500 million to help Afghanistan, it will be the largest donation Tokyo has ever made.

Officials say the funds will help with projects such as mine clearance, tax collection and the return of refugees.

The Japanese government is discussing its aid plans with other nations and soon will decide on a final figure. The money will be used during the next two-and-a-half years, while Afghanistan, now governed by an interim administration, prepares for a general election.

Hiroshi Taniyama is the secretary-general of the Japan International Volunteer Center, a private aid group. He recently returned from a trip to Kabul.

Mr. Taniyama says he believes "it is important that the Afghan people be the ones to allocate the aid money given by Japan and other nations." He adds that "if more money is given than the Afghan people need, it could spur corruption." The exact amounts pledged by Japan and other countries will be announced at the two-day Tokyo conference for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, which opens Monday. It will be co-hosted by Japan, the United States, the European Union and Saudi Arabia. Representatives from nearly 60 countries and international institutions will attend.

The United Nations estimates that Afghanistan requires between $10 billion and $20 billion in reconstruction aid over the next decade. Kabul says it needs $45 billion, an amount that donor nations are unlikely to approve.

Japan is Asia's largest aid donor. It pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to help rebuild Cambodia and East Timor in the 1990s. Now, however, Japan is in recession, and the government is making steep budget cuts. There are reports its overseas aid budget will be trimmed 10 percent or more. Still, officials in Tokyo say helping Afghanistan is a priority in its aid program.

The United States, also in recession, is expected to offer a significant portion of the funds needed for the first year of Afghanistan's reconstruction.