Friday, January 3, 2003

Afghans give up old money

By Todd Pitman
The Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghans rushed to trade in the last of their old bank notes for the country's new currency Thursday, the final day of a three-month monetary overhaul that the government hopes will give it firm control over once-chaotic financial policies.

Lax controls in past years had allowed three separate currencies - some printed by warlords - to flourish side by side.

"Today's the last day to trade in old afghanis, and we've had a lot more people coming to change them than usual," said Raqib Bullah, a 25-year-old money changer at a crowded, open-air market in the capital. "Nobody wants to hold on to old afghanis; everybody's trying to get rid of them."

Crisp, clean and colorful new bills first hit the streets of the capital Oct. 7. An initial deadline, set in December, was extended a month because of logistics problems transporting new notes to remote areas.

Central bank spokesman Ghulam Mohammad Fayez called the new currency's introduction "a success" and said banks across the country closed at 7 p.m. local time - the final deadline.

Mr. Fayez said extra security forces had been posted around the central bank in Kabul in case last-minute crowds tried to rush in. But only a handful of people traded in their last notes.

"Almost all the old money has been collected. We no longer have crowds coming with huge stacks of money to trade in," Mr. Fayez said earlier.

Another money changer, manning a crowded shop inside the Kabul market, said he was already dealing exclusively with new notes.

Another reason for introducing the new currency was to make transactions - once requiring stacks of old bills - much easier to carry out. One new note is worth 1,000 old ones.

Until now, money traders had to keep an eye out for two other currencies also in circulation, both nearly identical to the original.

In northern Afghanistan, territories under the control of warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum were flooded with money most people referred to simply as "Dostums." A third currency, printed in the 1990s, was also in circulation, differing from the others only in that a higher series of numbers was written on it.

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