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Tuesday, December 1, 1998 Published at 14:32 GMT

World: South Asia

Nepal hosts world's Buddhists

Buddhists believe they should try to visit key pilgrimage sites

By Religious Affairs Correspondent Jane Little

Some 500 Buddhist monks and scholars from across South Asia and the West have gathered in the tiny village of Lumbini, a long day's bus ride from Kathmandu on the Indian border.

They were welcomed by the Nepalese Crown Prince Dipendra, who has added his weight to an event which was billed as the world Budhhist summit and intended to draw attention to the sanctity of Lumbini.

It was here that two years ago archeologists announced the discovery of a large stone which Buddhists believe was placed by an ancient king as a monument to the birthplace of the Buddha.

Now many Buddhists accept that the one-time prince, Siddhartha Gautama, was born in a grove here some 26 centuries ago.

The Nepalese government, which rules one of the poorest countries in the world, has seized on its potential.

Buddhists believe it is their duty to make pilgrimages to places of key events in the Buddha's life and Lumbini has already attracted large groups of devotees.

Japanese Buddhists have provided financial assistance to build hotels and amenities at the site but progress has been slow.

The authorities clearly hoped for a high-profile presence at the conference to boost their cause, but that hasn't happened.

The UN Secretary-General among others declined an invitation.

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