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Key Afghan Tunnel Reopens After Cleanup

January 20, 2002|From Reuters

SALANG PASS, Afghanistan — Shivering Afghan and Russian leaders Saturday officially reopened the Salang Tunnel, the highest in the world at 11,034 feet, after workers cleared tons of debris left over from warfare in the late 1990s.

Twenty trucks loaded with Russian food and medicines for needy Afghans made up the first convoy to travel south through the dimly lighted tunnel under the snowcapped Hindu Kush mountains.

Russian and Afghan workers, helped by British and French nongovernmental organizations, cleared the 1.6-mile tunnel in a month to reopen the main artery linking northern and southern Afghanistan.

In addition to boosting private traffic and trade, the tunnel will be a major conduit for humanitarian aid coming from Russia and the Central Asian republics and for refugees returning from neighboring Pakistan to their homes in the north.

The tunnel, built by the Soviet Union and opened in 1964, was a major supply route for Soviet troops during their 1980s occupation of Afghanistan. Communist convoys were often attacked along the steep approaches on either side.

"We greatly appreciate the work of the four organizations that have helped us clear up the tunnel," said Afghan Public Works Minister Abdul Khaliq Fazal during a short ceremony at the northern end of the tunnel.

Russian and Afghan workers, some with the French charity ACTED, worked together with de-miners from Britain's HALO Trust to clear mounds of rubble left after opposition fighters destroyed both entrances in 1997 in their war against the Taliban.

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