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Sunday, 4 January, 1998, 10:51 GMT
Taleban says it's ready to sign Turkmen pipeline deal

The Taleban authorities have strongly indicated that they're close to reaching a final agreement on the building of a gas pipeline across Afghanistan.

A Talebanspokesman in Kabul said it would sign any deal that met Afghanistan's interests.

However he didn't indicate which of two competing companies the Taleban favoured -- Bridas of Argentine or UNOCAL of the United States.

The spokesman implied that the finalisation of the deal was being held up by other parties.

The project involves constructing at least one pipeline which would carry Turkmen gas across Afghanistan to Pakistan.

The BBC correspondent in Kabul says the project will be the first major foreign investment in Afghanistan since the outbreak of war nearly twenty years ago; it will also help break the stranglehold that Russia maintained over Central Asian oil and gas export routes.

From the newsroom of the BBC World Service

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