Afghanistan holds mineral treasure: minister

KABUL Mon Mar 16, 2009 6:28am EDT

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KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan sits on one of the largest mineral deposits in the region, the country's mines minister said, urging foreign firms to invest in oil, gas and iron ore sectors.

A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) had shown that the war-torn nation may hold far higher amounts of minerals than previously thought, Mohammad Ibrahim Adel said.

"In the field of minerals, Afghanistan is the richest country in the region, much more, hundreds of times more. Except for diamond, you have all the other minerals that you find in nature, in Afghanistan," Adel told Reuters in an interview late on Sunday.

Based on the USGS survey, he said, Afghanistan's north is estimated to hold between 600 to 700 billion cubic meters of natural gas and the country has some 25 million tonnes of oil in four basins.

"We are a people who don't have money, food or clothes. But we are sleeping on gold," he said. The country's iron deposits were estimated at between five to six billion tonnes, he added.

Adel will travel next week to Dubai, Britain, the United States and Singapore to drum up foreign interest in the country's oil, gas and iron ore sectors.

Security has deteriorated in Afghanistan in recent years as a resurgent Taliban fight against foreign forces, but Adel said it would not deter foreign investors.

China's top integrated copper producer, Jiangxi Copper Co (0358.HK), and China Metallurgical Group Corp, were interested in going ahead with the exploration of the vast Aynak Copper Mine, south of Kabul, he said.

The two companies won the contract through a tender last year to develop the Aynak Copper Mine, as Chinese companies accelerate a search for minerals abroad to feed the world's fastest-growing major economy

The Afghan government had launched an operation to rid the area of landmines, Adel said.

Afghanistan, which relies Western cash and support, will be a self sufficient nation if its natural resources were developed, he said.

"If we can allocate money for the exploration, for oil and natural resources, I think after five to 10 years, Afghanistan would be in a very good position,."

Exploiting the country's mineral resources will also provide jobs for ordinary Afghans and discourage them from joining the Taliban-led insurgents, he said.

(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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