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Wednesday, 29 May, 2002, 21:59 GMT 22:59 UK
Experts defer Buddhas' rebuilding
Bamiyan town with the Buddha-site mountain in the background
The heritage site at Bamiyan has to wait
International conservation experts meeting in Kabul have decided to defer the reconstruction of two giant Buddha statues in Bamiyan which were destroyed by the Taleban.


It is important to start here, quickly...to present to the people of Afghanistan the richness of their collection

Mounir Bouchenaki, Unesco

The meeting, organised by the United Nations' cultural organ, Unesco, and the Afghan ministry of culture, selected the restoration of Kabul Museum as their first priority.

Experts and officials from several countries, as well as Unesco, pledged funds for restoring what they described as Afghanistan's rich and diverse cultural heritage.

The meeting established a number of projects aimed at rehabilitating several museums whose collections have been either plundered or damaged over the past two decades of warfare.

A number of monuments too were selected for repairs and restoration.

Ancient cross-roads

The war-ravaged country sits on a historical crossroads where many cultures have met and mingled - Persian, Greek, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim.
Kabul residents pass a particularly badly damaged part of the city
Decades of war have destroyed a great deal

The experts decided some of its many cultural treasures required more urgent attention than others.

These did not include the famous "Bamiyan Buddhas", massive 4th century statues carved into a hillside near the town of Bamiyan and considered a relic of the birth of Mahayana Buddhism.

In 2001, Afghanistan's Taleban authorities described these as idolatrous and rejecting pleas from world leaders, blew them up.

The experts agreed to stabilise the surrounding cliffs at the Bamiyan site and protect the 600 or so niches once decorated with wall-paintings.

However, they said the reconstruction of the statues themselves, one 53-metre high and the other 38-metre high, was not a high priority.

Correspondents say this delay in the restoration of Afghanistan's best-known monuments would disappoint many people around the world, as well as in the country.

Money matters

The experts decided that rebuilding the capital's museum, shelled, looted and physically damaged by successive groups of Afghans in recent years, deserved immediate attention.
Bamiyan Buddha site after destruction of the statues
Restoration will need much time and money

"It is important to start here, quickly, the restoration of the objects and to start very quickly to the present to the people of Afghanistan the richness of their collection," said Unesco's Mounir Bouchenaki.

This project will begin with a Greek donation of $750,000.

Other countries have pledged similar sums, and the Aga Khan has already allocated $5 million.

A Japanese project would fund the stabilisation of the cliffs at Bamiyan although what happens to the sites of the statues themselves will be left to the people of Afghanistan.

Another high-priority project will protect the 12th-century Minaret of Jam, the second highest minaret in the world, and the last remnant of an once-great Islamic cultural centre.

Next month, it will be declared a global heritage site.

Ancient Afghan buddhas

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27 May 02 | South Asia
10 Apr 02 | South Asia
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15 Feb 02 | Country profiles
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20 Dec 01 | South Asia
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