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Afghan civil servants paid for first time in 6 months

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KABUL, Afghanistan — To their joy, Afghanistan's civil servants were paid Tuesday for the first time in six months.

"I am very, very happy," said Abdel Jami, a Finance Ministry employee clutching a thick wad of afghanis — his pay for the second half of December and the first half of January. Jami received 1.4 million afghanis, or $28, the average monthly salary for a government worker.

The government has no money to pay back wages yet, officials said. Paying civil servants is a top priority in Prime Minister Hamid Karzai's hopes of bringing stability to the country.

Only civilian government employees were being paid, not the police and military. Afghanistan has 219,000 civil servants, each of whom will receive a month's wages over the next four days, said Abdul Qadeer Fitrat, the acting governor of the Central Bank.

About $8 million will be paid out, virtually all the money that has been earmarked for Afghanistan in a "startup fund."

The United Nations has appealed for more pledges for the startup fund, but as of late last week none of the donor countries had offered to increase their contributions.

"I am optimistic. The U.N. authorities are working very hard," Fitrat said.

At the Finance Ministry, more than 100 people were still waiting to collect their pay as the work day ended. A ministry official, Mohammed Masoudi, said the ministry had no safe, so it would have to hand out all the funds the same day.

The startup fund is separate from the $4.5 billion in assistance pledged over the next several years at a conference of nearly 60 donor nations and international organizations in Tokyo this week.

The pledges fell short of the five-year, $10 billion goal set by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan for everything from clearing mines to building bridges and roads and restoring the education and health care systems.