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    150 relics found near Ainak copper mine

    KABUL (PAN): As many as 150 relics have been found near the world's largest copper mine in central Logar province, Ministry of Information and Culture officials said on Tuesday.

    Discovery of the sites in Kohi Ainak, Shah Mar Tapa, Shah Tapa and Wali Baba villages, close to the mine, began in 2009 and would end before the start of extractions in 2013, a ministry official said.

    In November 2007, the Chinese Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) won the bid to develop the copper mine, a project involving the largest foreign investment in Afghanistan's history and employing 10,000 people.

    The monuments belonged to the Kohsan and Yaftal eras, the acting head of the department of archeology at the Ministry of Information and Culture, Khair Mohammad Khairzada, told Pajhwok Afghan News.

    A team of 123 archeologists was involved in the digging process that led to finding gold, silver and bronze coins, he said. "The most important find was a stone sculpture," he added.

    Wooden, stone and mud sculptures, in sitting, sleeping and standing positions, have also been found, according to Khairzada, who explained upper parts of the figures were damaged by rain and snow. All the items have been handed to the Kabul Museum.

    With excavation in progress, copper extraction from the mine work would not be launched, he said. Previously, smugglers stole a number of precious items from the site.

    But now 1,500 policemen are guarding the mine. The Ainak copper deposits were first explored by Soviet geologists in the 1970s. But then the Soviet invasion of 1979 and years of warfare put an end to plans to develop them.

    Officials say the area contains an estimated 13 million tonnes of copper, making it a world-class site. Once it goes into operation, the mine will provide hundreds of millions of dollars of much-needed revenue for the cash-starved Afghan government.

    It will also provide thousands of jobs in a land where unemployment is one of the most pressing problems. The Ainak tender was hotly contested by companies from Canada, Australia and Russia, as well as China.

    frm/mud