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Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 14:11 GMT
Slow progress for Buddha birthplace plans

By South Asia analyst Alastair Lawson

A two-day conference has began in Nepal to attract worldwide support in developing the village of Lumbini, where the Buddha was born.

The Nepalese authorities hope that Lumbini will become to Buddhists what Bethlehem is to Christians.

Buddhist temple
Nepal wants to encourage Buddhist pilgrims
Although numerous Buddhist countries throughout the world have pledged money towards developing the Buddha's birthplace as an international pilgrimage centre, the village of Lumbini is cut off from most other tourist areas of the country.

Its only accessible from Kathmandu by small passenger aircraft or by an arduous road journey that takes over 12 hours.

The aim of the conference is to encourage more investment towards Lumbini so that the site has more accommodation for tourists and better communication links with the rest of Nepal.

Organisers also hope to attract overseas investment so that the site can be fully excavated.

The two-day conference was officially opened on Thursday by the Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala.

It is being attended by Buddhist monks and experts from more than a dozen countries.

Slow progress

The government says the aim is to encourage foreign investment while at the same time ensuring the views of the local community are taken into account.

They say that in a few years' time, thousands of overseas pilgrims will be able to visit Lumbini.

But so far, progress has been painfully slow.

Critics say that is because successive governments have not been genuinely committed in going ahead with Lumbini's development.

They say that the idea was first mooted 20 years ago, but has been consistently hampered by bureaucratic and financial obstacles.

Critics say there has been little progress since the last international conference to develop Lumbini was held two years ago.

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See also:

13 Jul 00 | South Asia
Airport at Budhha's birthplace
01 Dec 98 | South Asia
Nepal hosts world's Buddhists
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