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SLUG: 2-285454 Russia Afghanistan (L)









INTRO: Russia is sending new shipments of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan through the long-closed Salang Tunnel, which was reopened on Saturday. Officials in Moscow also say they will present new proposals at the Afghanistan donors' conference, which begins Monday in Tokyo. Bill Gasperini has more from Moscow.

TEXT: Officials from Russia's Ministry for Emergency Situations say convoys of heavy trucks carrying tons of food and other humanitarian supplies are heading south to Kabul through the strategic Salang Tunnel.

The first convoy of 20-trucks passed through the tunnel this weekend after teams of workers labored for several weeks to clear it of debris and land mines.

The tunnel is the highest in the world and is three-point-two kilometers long. It was built by Soviet engineers in the 1950's and has long served as a key transport link through the Hindu Kush Mountains in central Afghanistan.

However, it was blasted shut at both ends several years ago by opposition forces in their fight against the hard-line Taleban, who were driven from power in the current U-S led war against terrorism.

Russia has sent large amounts of aid to Afghanistan since the war started in October. In addition to food aid, Moscow sent weapons and military equipment to the forces of the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance, which now forms the core of the interim Afghan government.

Clearing the tunnel was a top priority for Moscow, given that it makes transport to the south much easier.

Ironically, the tunnel was the scene of numerous attacks against Soviet forces by the Afghan mujahideen fighters during the 1980's. Groups of fighters would attack Soviet troop convoys as they emerged from the tunnel, or would ambush them on the winding road heading south toward Kabul.

Now, those same Afghan officials have thanked the Russian aid teams, as well as workers from other nations, who helped reopen the tunnel.

In Kabul, Russian aid teams have been working on numerous projects, including a field hospital that officials say will be donated to Afghanistan. (SIGNED)


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