Iran General NewsIran stops fuel delivery, Afghanistan says, and prices are...

Iran stops fuel delivery, Afghanistan says, and prices are rising

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New York Times: Government officials expressed alarm on Wednesday about what they described as Iran’s unexplained ban on fuel exports to Afghanistan, asserting that at least 1,400 loaded tankers were parked on Iran’s side of three border crossings.

The New York Times

By MICHAEL KAMBER and TAIMOOR SHAH

KABUL, Afghanistan — Government officials expressed alarm on Wednesday about what they described as Iran’s unexplained ban on fuel exports to Afghanistan, asserting that at least 1,400 loaded tankers were parked on Iran’s side of three border crossings.

Abdul Karim Barahwe, the governor of Nimroz Province in western Afghanistan, said the Iranian authorities had started halting tankers bound for Afghanistan about 10 days ago. The effect is driving up fuel prices just as winter is setting in.

“We really don’t know the exact cause of the ban; Iran doesn’t officially say the cause of the ban,” he said. Now, he said, both the Interior and Commerce Ministries, as well as President Hamid Karzai’s office, “are trying to sort out this problem with Iran.”

The governor said that tankers full of fuel were backed up at the border crossings of Nimroz, Farah and Islam Qala.

There has been no word in Iran about a ban on Afghanistan-bound fuel. The restriction may reflect Iran’s own energy problems, caused in part by Western sanctions on the country over its nuclear program, as well as a sharp increase in Iranian fuel prices caused by a government phase-out of subsidies that began this month. Or it could represent an effort to retaliate against the United States for the sanctions, even though the fuel is not supposed to be supporting the American war effort.

Afghanistan is landlocked and relies heavily on fuel brought in by truck from Iran, Pakistan and the former Soviet republics.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan on Wednesday, NATO investigators were looking into the deaths of five civilians in Helmand Province during fighting between Taliban insurgents and NATO forces, including American Marines. Some local Afghan officials said the killings, which happened on Tuesday in the village of Nizamudin, were caused by Taliban fighters who had used the civilians as human shields. The Taliban denied the accusation.

Mohammed Sharif, governor of Sangin District, which includes Nizamudin, said that Taliban fighters shooting at Marines from a civilian house in the village would not let its inhabitants leave and that the Marines eventually called in air support to blast the house after several hours of shooting.

“So finally a bomb hit them, killing the seven Taliban along with the civilians,” Mr. Sharif said. Other Afghan officials said it was uncertain how the civilians had died. “We are condemning whichever side killed the civilians, and ask NATO forces to take care of civilians in the battlefield,” said Dawoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial governor’s office.

NATO officials declined to comment on the deaths while the investigation was under way. NATO released a statement on Tuesday acknowledging that five civilian casualties had been discovered in the village after an insurgent attack on NATO forces.

Civilian deaths have become an increasingly urgent issue in the war. The government and civilian aid groups have repeatedly asked NATO to take steps that would limit civilian casualties. The number of dead and wounded Afghans rose 31 percent in the first half of this year compared with the same period in 2009, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

Michael Kamber reported from Kabul, and Taimoor Shah from Kandahar, Afghanistan. Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting from Kabul.

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