KABUL Aug 18 Afghanistan's landmark oil project
has ground to a halt and most Chinese staff have left the site
less than a year after production first started because there is
still no transit agreement in place to refine the oil, an
employee and a government official said on Sunday.
The venture between China National Petroleum Corporation
(CNPC) International and its Afghan partner, Watan Oil and Gas,
began producing oil in the Amu Darya basin in the north in
October, providing a much needed confidence boost to investors
eyeing the country's vast oil and mineral wealth.
But equipment at the site had been locked up and about 16
Chinese workers had left, an employee at the project said on
condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the
The removal of staff was only a temporary measure to save
money, according to Jalil Jumriany, policy director at the
Ministry of Mines in Kabul. He said an agreement to refine the
oil over the border in Uzbekistan was being negotiated.
"We are waiting for a transit agreement with the Uzbek
government," he said.
Jumriany said a team would travel to meet the Uzbek
government next week and was hopeful a deal could be reached.
CNPC said it had no knowledge of problems or delays
affecting the project when asked early last week.
Landlocked Afghanistan lacks the capacity to refine the oil
it can produce and until an adequate refinery is built, will
remain reliant on trade agreements with its neighbours.
The joint project, the first international oil production
agreement reached by the Afghan government for several decades,
had been expected to earn the war-torn state billions of dollars
over two decades.
(Reporting by Jessica Donati; Editing by Nick Macfie)