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Uzbek-Tajik dispute hinders Afghanistan supplies

A dispute between two former Soviet republics in Central Asia has caused a bottleneck in the shipment of some nonmilitary supplies destined for U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, Tajik officials said Friday.

Tajikistan says freight traffic is being blocked from crossing its border with Uzbekistan, holding up many shipments, including the Afghanistan-bound supplies.

Tajiks say the action has severely damaged their economy. Some analysts say Uzbekistan has halted traffic because it fears that a huge dam project in Tajikistan will divert water from its territory.

Uzbekistan denies that the interruption in railway deliveries is intentional.

Under deals secured last year, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan granted the United States and NATO forces permission to transport nonmilitary materials through their countries to neighboring Afghanistan.

Tajik officials say that about 1,000 railway carriages transporting goods to Tajikistan for an important aluminum company and the giant Roghun hydroelectric dam construction project, as well as fuel needed for agricultural machinery, have been affected. Tajikistan's state railways company says some of the railcars are also carrying supplies bound for international forces in Afghanistan.

Earlier this week, Tajik Prime Minister Akil Akilov criticized Uzbekistan for the holdup, which he said has caused his impoverished country millions of dollars. He appealed to the United Nations Secretary General to help settle the dispute.

Akilov accused Uzbekistan of intentionally targeting fuel supplies to disrupt farming in Tajikistan, which is largely rural.

The Uzbek Embassy in Tajikistan said the holdup was caused by too much traffic on its railroads.

"These problems are mainly technical and logistical, and they have been caused by a sharp increase in traffic on Uzbekistan's railways," the embassy said in a statement.

The statement said the increased traffic has been created by international agreements to allow deliveries of humanitarian supplies to Afghanistan. Some transportation difficulties have also been caused by adverse weather, the embassy said.

Uzbek officials say its state railway company is devising an emergency timetable to ensure essential supplies are delivered to Tajikistan as soon as possible.

Since the 1991 Soviet collapse, relations between the two neighbors have been strained by border disagreements and failure to coordinate on sharing natural resources. But tensions have escalated in recent months over Tajikistan's plan to build a giant hydroelectric plant by damming a river that flows into Uzbekistan's agricultural heartland.

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Associated Press Writer Peter Leonard contributed to this report from Almaty, Kazakhstan.