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 Tuesday, 31 December, 2002, 13:08 GMT
Afghanistan wants treasures returned
Bamiyan town with the Buddha-site mountain in the background
Efforts have begun to restore the site at Bamiyan
Afghanistan has appealed for the return of ancient treasures lost during two decades of war.

Culture Minister Syed Makhdoom Raheen said the government was now ready to protect the country's antiquities and works of art.

These things belong to the Afghan nation because it is our history, heritage and identity

Culture Minister Syed Makhdoom Raheen
He was speaking in Peshawar in Pakistan, where he opened a new Afghan cultural centre.

"When the present Afghan government came to power, we had nothing, everything was destroyed," he told reporters.

He appealed to all those who possess antiques and pieces of art looted from Kabul to return them to the Afghan people.

Afghanistan's lost artwork includes bronze, ceramic and stone pieces dating from when Alexander the Great swept through South Asia in the 4th Century BC.

There are also some rare Buddha carvings which originated nearly 2,000 years ago.

Looters

Nearly 80% of Afghanistan's artefacts were lost after Soviet troops were driven out of the country by guerrilla fighters who stole, sold and often damaged the works of art.

The country's treasures suffered more damage under Taleban rule, when many works of art were destroyed for being "un-Islamic".

The Taleban's destruction of the giant Buddhas at Bamiyan provoked widespread international condemnation and efforts have now begun to restore the heritage site.

"Now we are trying to preserve our history and culture for the next generation," Mr Raheen said.

He said his government was in talks with the UN cultural agency, Unesco, on how to preserve and display its antiquities.

"These pieces were collected with hard work during the past 80 years. It was during the last few years that they were stolen," Mr Raheen said.

Ancient Afghan buddhas

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27 May 02 | South Asia
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