LONDON, June 25 (Reuters) - Afghanistan, seeking to exploit its untapped mineral wealth, sought investors on Friday to bid for a series of mining projects, including its huge Hajigak iron ore deposit.
Mining Minister Wahidullah Shahrani, on an investment roadshow this week in London, said he had already talked to officials of ArcelorMittal (ISPA.AS), the world's biggest steelmaker, and also planned to see mining group Rio Tinto (RIO.L)(RIO.AX).
"Interest is growing among the investor community. They are keen to find out more information," he told reporters following a series of presentations.
He said mineral deposits in the country, including copper, iron ore, gold and aluminium, were estimated to be worth $1 trillion to $3 trillion.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Defense said this month that Afghanistan's mineral wealth could top $1 trillion, a finding that could reshape the country's economy and help U.S. efforts to bolster the war-battered government.
The country, fighting the Taliban militant group, has set up a 1,500-strong protection unit to provide security for a new copper mine and promised to do the same for other mining firms.
"Usually we get negative coverage, there is focus mainly on the incidents, the explosions, the attacks, the casualties, which are also part of the reality," he said.
"But at the same time there are tremendous opportunities... it can raise a lot of hope in the world community about the potential that exists in Afghanistan."
The Afghanistan government hopes to earn $3.5 billion in revenue a year from the resource sector within 15 years, Shahrani said.
Analysts have cautioned that the difficulties of exploiting Afghanistan's mineral wealth are huge and could take decades to overcome. The nation has little mining infrastructure, is in the midst of war and has a reputation for corruption.
Friday's presentations were met with a mixture of caution and interest.
"My guess is that you will get some juniors going in, but I'm not sure you'll find much appetite for some of the big projects. That may have to be left to the Chinese," said analyst Charles Gibson at Edison Investment Research.
Amir Bedi, managing partner of London-based private equity capital group Bedi Capital, said he was intrigued with the possibilities.
"Afghanistan was not on my radar at all before, but this was a good chance to get information and meet government officials," he said. He had no immediate plans for investment in the country, but he would consider possible future opportunties.
A tender would be launched in September for the Hajigak iron ore deposit, located in the Bamiyan province, 130 km (80 miles) west of Kabul. It is billed as the largest unexploited iron ore deposit in Asia. The Soviet Union carried out studies on Hajigak in the 1960s, calculating a resource of 1.8 billion tonnes at 64 percent iron.
An official with a mining company, who declined to be identified, said Western companies would have difficulties since Russian resource calculations were not recognised in the West.
The deposit was at a high elevation and covered in snow much of the year, so it would take about five years just to come up with a new resource calcuation, he added.
Afghanistan has already tendered for the Aynak copper deposit, which was won in 2008 by a joint venture of China Metallurgical Group [CNMET.UL] and Jiangxi Copper Corp, which plan to spend about $4 billion to develop it and build a railway.
The 800-km (497 miles) Chinese railway for the copper mine was part of an extensive network of roads and railroads being developed in the landlocked country with World Bank help.
Shahrani said the Afghan government had recently restructured the Ministry of Mines, introduced new laws and committed to a mining industry transparency initiative to make sure revenue from mining was collected in an open manner.
Shahrani said the Badakhstan gold deposit would go to tender later this year and the Balkap copper deposit early next year.
On Monday, Shahrani announced that the country would begin an oil tender process, including for the Kashkari oil block this year and the much bigger Afghan-Tajik block early next year.