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French Defence Ministry Bars Sales Of Satellite Pics Of Afghanistan

Example of a satellite image taken over Afghanistan in recent days.
Paris (AFP) Oct 19, 2001
The French company SPOT Image, which sells satellite pictures, said Friday it had stopped selling pictures of Afghanistan under instructions from the ministry of defence.

SPOT Image spokeswoman Sandrine Franck-May told AFP that the move took effect on October 8.

"As of that date, we were required by the defence ministry to restrict the distribution and diffusion of the region including Afghanistan," she said.

In addition, "all pictures which are sold to clients must be approved by senior management and the defence ministry, and we cannot give any more pictures to the press," Franck-May said.

"Our only customer for pictures of Afghanistan is the French defence ministry, and this includes all of SPOT's subsidiaries," including the US unit SICORP in Washington, she said.

On October 17, the British daily The Guardian said the Pentagon had spent millions of dollars to prevent western media from seeing pictures taken by Ikonos, a civilian US satellite launched in 1999.

The decision to shut down access to satellite images was taken on October 11, after reports of heavy civilian casualties from the bombing of training camps near Darunta, northwest of Jalalabad, the left-of-centre daily said.

Under American law, the US Defence Department has legal power to exercise "shutter control" over civilian satellites launched from the United States in order to prevent enemies using the images while America is at war.

But no such order was given, The Guardian said.

Instead, the Pentagon bought exclusive rights to all Ikonos satellite pictures of Afghanistan off Space Imaging, the company which runs the satellite, the report said.

SPOT Image, launched in 1986, has a fleet of three satellites, and a fourth which is scheduled to be launched early next year.

"Any point on 95 percent of the Earth may be imaged any day by one of the three satellites," the company says on its website.

SPOT's satellites have a resolution of up to 10 metres (33 feet), whereas Ikonos has a resolution of just one metre (three feet).

The United States' latest generation of KH (Key Hole) satellites has resolution as good as 10 centimetres (four inches), according to an estimate by the private Federation of American Scientists (FAS).

That would mean an object little larger than a tennis ball could be identified from several hundred kilometers (miles) away in space.

Satellite pictures have a wide range of civilian use, such as mineral prospection, urban planning, ocean pollution, forestry and hazard management.

The European Commission uses pictures from SPOT Image to combat fraud in the European Union's farm subsidy programme, while the French armed forces also used the company's satellites during the Gulf War.

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Land Info Expands Afghanistan Imagery & Map Coverage
Denver - Oct. 3, 2001
Land Info International, a producer of worldwide geospatial datasets and services, says it has expanded availability of satellite imagery, digital elevation models (DEM), and topographic map datasets for Afghanistan and the neighboring region.

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