Asia Crisis

FACTBOX-Key facts about the Wakhan Corridor

June 12 (Reuters) - China and Afghanistan have agreed to study opening the 76-km (47-mile) border between the two countries (For full story click on [ID:nPEK260930]).

Here are key facts about the border area, known as the Wakhan Corridor.

* The Wakhan Corridor extends in a panhandle in Afghanistan's northeastern Badakhshan province up to the relatively small border with China's Xinjiang province. The corridor is roughly 210 km long (130 miles) long and between 20 km and 60 km wide. Tajikistan lies to the north and Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province and disputed Jammu and Kashmir lie to the south. The border at the eastern end in the Hindu Kush is one of the highest in the world at 4,293 metres.

* The corridor is populated primarily by Wakhi farmers and yurt-dwelling Kyrghyz herders, with the agricultural economy dominated by subsistence farming. The population has been estimated at about 10,600. People in the corridor suffer from a range of problems including poverty, ill health, lack of education, food insecurity and opium addiction, according to a United Nations Environment Programme and Food and Agriculture Organization report in 2003.

* The Anglo-Russian Boundary Commission awarded the area to Afghanistan in 1895-96 to create a buffer between the two empires. The corridor was once part of the fabled Silk Road but has been closed to regular border traffic for almost 100 years.

* The mountainous, sparsely populated Wakhan Corridor is the primary habitat in Afghanistan for snow leopards, which are listed as endangered or threatened under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. It is estimated there are only between 100 and 200 snow leopards left in Afghanistan, about the same number as in Bhutan, and a complete hunting ban has been in place since 2002. The Wakhan Corridor is also home to wild Marco Polo sheep.

* The Wakhan Corridor escaped the worst effects of the long years of war suffered elsewhere in Afghanistan since the December 1979 invasion by the Soviet Union. There are no minefields but there were several Soviet garrisons in the area.

Sources: The United Nations Environment Programme and Food and Agriculture Organization, The Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan Second Edition 2002, Reuters