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Tajikistan rep visits area to organize relief efforts

Many Americans have never heard of Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic struggling to overcome years of poverty and civil war.

That could change soon: Tajikistan borders northeastern Afghanistan and has become one of the potential outlets for Afghan refugees.

The United States may be given access to former Soviet military installations there.

Along with Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, Tajikistan could figure prominently in the war against terrorists.

The Toledo area got a visit yesterday from a Tajikistan trade representative, Sadriddin Akramov, who came to the region to help a Waterville-based ministry known as ISOH/IMPACT coordinate some local humanitarian aid efforts for his country.

Mr. Akramov, president and chief executive officer of the U.S.-Tajikistan Chamber of Commerce in Washington, said he wants Americans to know Tajikistan expresses its “deepest sympathy” for the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

He said his country will cooperate with U.S.-led efforts to take down Afghanistan's Taliban regime and terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and that it strives for investments that will lead to economic recovery.

“We cannot live just on humanitarian aid. We need some investment in the country,” Mr. Akramov said at an ISOH/IMPACT facility near Perrysburg called The Children's Lighthouse. The facility, on West River Road, provides temporary housing for foreign children who are in the United States for medical services.

The ministry, previously known as International Services of Hope/Impact with God Crusades, has helped six children move to America from Tajikistan since 1997, spokesman Stan Greene said.

It specializes in delivering humanitarian aid and in helping children from poor countries receive proper medical care.

Donations being sought for Tajikistan include dried food, beans, rice, soy-based dry milk, winter clothing, and certain medical supplies, Mr. Greene said.

According to information from the CIA, Tajikistan has experienced three changes in government and a five-year civil war since it gained independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.

It remains a hotbed of random criminal and political violence, the intelligence agency said.

As of the fall of 1999, Project Ploughshares and Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimated that 40,000 people had been killed and 500,000 had been left homeless in Tajikistan since 1992.

Mr. Akramov said his country's instability includes recent assassinations of government officials.

“The people are perhaps the poorest on Earth,” Mr. Greene said.

With a population of about 6 million, Tajikistan is considerably smaller than nearby Pakistan, which has about 27 million people.

The Bush administration announced Thursday it has started a $320 million relief effort for that region, with hopes of delivering as much as $295 million of it inside Afghanistan.

About $25 million is to go to other nearby countries, Tajikistan and Pakistan included, to help assist with an expected influx of Afghan refugees.

The Blade's wire services contributed to this report.

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