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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August, 2003, 21:03 GMT 22:03 UK
Afghan gold stash found intact
A Taleban soldier stands at the scene of destroyed Buddhas in Bamiyan, Afghanistan
The 1,800-year old statues were reduced to rubble
A legendary cache of gold and other valuable items has been shown to have survived Afghanistan's civil war and Taleban rule.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai provided a guided tour of the presidential palace's secret vault in the capital, Kabul, to show Afghans it had not been plundered.

The vault was last opened in 1989 when the country was ruled by Soviet-backed President Mohammed Najibullah.

The Taleban allegedly tried and failed to gain access to it, but it was ultimately local locksmiths who made its doors swing open again, revealing national assets worth about $90m.

Televised pictures on Friday showed Mr Karzai inspecting an opened wooden box filled with gold bullion bars.

"Today with the grace of Allah Almighty, we have succeeded in seeing the central treasure of Afghanistan," said Mr Karzai.

"Fortunately, it is in place."

The Afghan Government attempted unsuccessfully to break into the vault last year.

Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani said staff at the bank "very courageously blocked the codes [to stop the Taleban entering] after they captured Kabul in September 1996.

"They were beaten almost senseless ... but resisted," he said.

Archaeological treasure

Much of the collection revealed on Friday was discovered during the excavation of ancient burial mounds by the Greek-Russian archaeologist Victor Sariyannidis prior to the Soviet invasion of the country in 1978.

Present-day northern Afghanistan was the former kingdom of Bactria, which was conquered by Alexander the Great in 327 BC.

Afghanistan's legendary 2,000-year-old Tillya Tepe (Golden Hill) Bactrian gold hoard includes gold and silver ornaments as well as manuscripts and other antiquities.

The find is especially valuable to the Afghan people because much of their rich cultural heritage was destroyed or looted during the 1992-96 civil war and under the Taleban.

The Taleban was denounced worldwide for destroying 1,800-year old Buddha statues in central Afghanistan's Bamiyan valley in 2001.

Afghanistan - one of the world's poorest nations - has gold reserves at the Federal Bank Reserve in New York.

Its combined gold assets, including those revealed on Friday, are thought to be worth about $350m.




SEE ALSO:
UN helps rebuild Afghan culture
16 Jun 03  |  South Asia
Rescue hope for Afghan treasures
27 May 02  |  South Asia
Afghans repair broken heritage
18 Feb 03  |  South Asia
Timeline: Afghanistan
13 Aug 03  |  Country profiles
Who are the Taleban?
19 Sep 01  |  South Asia



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