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    23 firms shortlisted to develop iron ore mine

    KABUL (PAN): Twenty-three foreign firms, interested in developing the Hajigak iron ore mine in central Bamyan province, have been shortlisted, a minister said on Wednesday.

    The companies included 15 from India, two from Iran, one each from Turkey, China, Canada, Australia, the US and the UK, Minister of Mines Wahidullah Shahrani told a press conference in Kabul.

    The shortlisted companies were among dozens of foreign firms that evinced an interest in developing the mine, he said, adding the government's terms and conditions would be sent to the bidders.

    Shahrani said the due diligence period would start from March 1, with bids due on August 3, 2011.  He insisted the selection process was carried out in a transparent manner. "We are looking forward to the eventual development of the Hajigak mine."

    The mine has a high iron content of 62 percent, and the deposits are suitable for open-pit mining, according to the ministry, which says there are 16 ore bodies, extending for five kilometres and having a depth of over 550 metres. The estimated value of the deposit is projected at $10 billion.

    Afghanistan may hold far higher amounts of minerals than previously thought, with iron deposits alone estimated at between five and six billion tonnes, says a recent US Geological Survey.

    After the signing of a contract with an international company, extraction from the mine would start in five years, boosting Afghanistan's economy and creating job opportunities for thousands of people, the minister said.