Omar said the actual exploration of the mine would begin after three years.

He also said an earlier plan for the tender of a 1.6bn barrel Afghan-Tajik oil block in early 2011 was still on track.

Untapped resources

He said that by the end of the year Afghanistan would retender a deposit of iron of 1.8bn tonnes it had scrapped earlier this year due to the global recession and changes in the world markets.

The untapped mineral resources include iron ore, copper, lithium, oil, gas and gems, which Afghanistan hopes to develop in the near future despite rising insecurity in recent years - the bloodiest period since US-led troops ousted the
Taliban in 2001.

The US department of defence estimated earlier this year that Afghanistan's mineral resources could top $1 trillion, but experts say the fragile security situation could delay seeing the benefits of this wealth for years.

Afghanistan hopes that untapped mineral deposits could help reduce the need to rely on Western cash for bankrolling its impoverished economy and for its soldiers to maintain security when foreign troops pull out of the country.

In 2007 China's top integrated copper producer, Jiangxi Copper Co and China Metallurgical Group Corp, became the first major investor in Afghanistan.

They are involved in the exploration of the vast multi-bilion dollar Aynak Copper Mine to the south of Kabul, the Afghan capital.