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Afghanistan Receives Relief by Rail - 2001-12-09


The first relief train in nearly five years has entered northern Afghanistan from neighboring Uzbekistan, carrying tons of sorely-needed humanitarian aid to millions of displaced Afghans fighting bitter cold, hunger and disease.

Today's (Sunday's) 15 rail-car shipment across the Amu Darya River's Friendship Bridge is the first since Uzbekistan sealed its borders after the hardline 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.

International aid workers have clamored for weeks for Uzbek authorities to re-open the rail line, warning that relief shipments by river barge were too slow to help the massive refugee crisis inside Afghanistan.

United Nations' officials said today's (Sunday's) relief train carried one thousand tons of grain and flour.

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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