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Afghan mineral wealth put at $1-3 trillion-minister

LONDON, June 25 (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s untapped mineral deposits could be worth up to $3 trillion, the country’s mines minister said on Friday, higher than a recent U.S. estimate.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Defense said this month that Afghanistan’s mineral wealth could top $1 trillion, a finding that could reshape the country’s economy and help U.S. efforts to bolster the war-battered government.

“According to our estimation, the potential value of the mineral deposits are something between one until three trillion dollars,” Afghan Mines Minister Wahidullah Shahrani told BBC radio.

Shahrani is in London for a “road show” on Friday at which Afghanistan aims to boost interest in its major iron ore deposit and other minerals.

“We are planning to develop a number of major strategic mineral deposits such as iron ore, copper, lithium, oil and gas in the next two to three years,” Shahrani said.

Asked if the deposits could be exploited when Afghan and NATO-led forces are fighting Taliban insurgents, Shahrani said: “Fortunately we have got different deposits in different parts of the country... The deposits which are going to be developed in the near future are all located in some of the most secure areas of the country.”

Shahrani said the Afghan government had recently restructured the Ministry of Mines, introduced new legislation and committed to a mining industry transparency initiative to make sure that revenue from mining operations was collected in an open manner.

Afghanistan has significant deposits of copper, iron ore, niobium, cobalt, gold, molybdenum, silver and aluminum as well as sources of fluorspar, beryllium and lithium, among others, a task force studying the country’s resources found recently.

Experts cautioned the challenge to exploiting Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was huge and could take decades to overcome. The country has little mining infrastructure, is in the midst of a wrenching war and has a reputation for government corruption. (Reporting by Adrian Croft; editing by James Jukwey)

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