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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 07:14 GMT
Plans to rebuild Bamiyan Buddhas
One of the original Bamiyan Buddhas shortly before it was blown up by the Taleban
The statues were destroyed despite international fury
By the BBC's Ian MacWilliam

A prominent specialist on Afghanistan's history and culture has been speaking in London about plans for the possible reconstruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas.

The two ancient statues, carved into a cliff in Bamiyan in central Afghanistan, were destroyed by the Taleban last March, causing an international outcry.


It will be a symbol for the Afghans of the liberation from Taleban and al-Qaeda influences

Afghan specialist Paul Bucherer
The Swiss specialist, Paul Bucherer, has recently returned from examining the ruins of the Buddha statues for the United Nations cultural organisation, Unesco.

Paul Bucherer, the head of the Afghanistan Museum based at Bubendorf, near Basel in Switzerland, is one of the world's foremost experts on the Bamiyan Buddhas.

He says the two great statues - 53 metres and 38 metres tall respectively - were Afghanistan's most important and best-loved historical monument.

Carved into a sheer cliff face about the fourth century AD when Afghanistan was a key link in the Silk Road trade route, they were part of the cultural heritage of all Afghans - as well as a profitable tourist attraction in the years before the Afghan war.

Afghan support

Mr Bucherer says that Unesco now plans to convene a conference of experts in Afghanistan in April or May to discuss the possible reconstruction of the Buddhas.

Bamiyan
Arab and Chinese writings from centuries ago will be studied
The decision to proceed would rest with the Afghan Government, but in meetings with government officials and ordinary people alike in Afghanistan he says he found widespread support for the idea.

"I did hear in my discussions with the top leaders, as well as discussions in the bazaar with the common people that the reconstruction of these statues is an absolute political priority for everyone in Afghanistan.

"It will be a symbol for the Afghans of the liberation from Taleban and al-Qaeda influences, and in addition, it is a national heritage which bridges all the ethnic and religious groups in the country," he said.

The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, said Mr Bucherer, was a specific objective of the al-Qaeda leadership, whose purist Wahabi beliefs preach a worldwide Islamic government and the destruction of national symbols.

Local Taleban in Bamiyan refused to destroy the statues, and al-Qaeda followers had to be called from further afield to carry out the destruction, under the direction of Chechen demolition experts.

If the reconstruction is now to go ahead, the next step will be to create a scale model of the larger Buddha, and to begin raising the necessary funds.

The project could cost between $30-50m - money which should be raised separately, Mr Bucherer emphasises, and not detract from any humanitarian funds sought for Afghanistan.

See also:

13 Nov 01 | South Asia
Bamiyan destroyed by Taleban
12 Mar 01 | South Asia
Outcry as Buddhas are destroyed
02 Mar 01 | South Asia
UN warns Taleban over Buddha statues
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