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Aid Sent to Afghanistan Across Re-Opened Uzbek Bridge - 2001-12-09


A train carrying tons of vital humanitarian relief has crossed into northern Afghanistan from neighboring Uzbekistan using a just-re-opened bridge for the first time in five years.

Sunday's 15-rail-car shipment across the Amu Darya River's Friendship Bridge carried tons of sorely-needed grain and flour for displaced Afghans fighting bitter cold, hunger, and disease.

Relief and humanitarian organizations pressured Uzbekistan to re-open the bridge to allow more relief into Afghanistan. Aid workers warned they could not transport sufficient supplies by river barge to stave off the war-torn country's humanitarian crisis.

The shipment was the first since Uzbekistan sealed its borders after the hard-line Taleban movement seized power in Afghanistan in 1996. Uzbek President Islam Karimov announced the bridge's re-opening after meeting in Tashkent Saturday with U-S Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Armed Uzbek guards were stationed along the bridge, and the Associated Press said the rail convoy was met on the Afghan side by ethnic Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostam. General Dostam's Northern Alliance forces took control of northern Afghanistan from the Taleban nearly three weeks ago.

In neighboring Tajikistan, officials said a key river crossing into Afghanistan has also been re-opened to humanitarian aid convoys.

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