Karzai pledges to rebuild Afghan Buddhas
BAMIYAN, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan's interim leader Hamid Karzai is pledging to rebuild two giant Buddha statues that were blasted into rubble by the Taliban last year.
Speaking Tuesday on a visit to the town of Bamiyan where the Buddhas once stood, he said the statues' destruction by Afghanistan's former rulers was a "national tragedy."
Ignoring international appeals to save the statues, the Taliban destroyed the two Buddhas in March 2001 saying they were idols that violated Islam.
The two sculptures -- one standing at around 50-meters (175-feet) high and the other some 35-meters (114-feet) high -- are believed to have been carved 1,500 years ago.
All that remains of them are large piles of rubble at the base of the two enormous cliff face alcoves that once housed them.
After touring the site, Karzai said the rebuilding of the two Buddhas was an essential part of the reconstruction of Afghanistan after decades of conflict.
"The loss of life is something irreparable. You cannot repair that," the Associated Press quoted him as saying. "But we're going to work on this and we hope we can have it rebuilt as soon as possible."
Question of funds
Karzai said an Afghan sculptor who had recently returned to his homeland after more than two decades in exile had presented him with plans to rebuild the statues in four to five years.
He added that the new Afghan administration had contacted the United Nations cultural body UNESCO for help on the project.
Karzai made no mention of costs or how any reconstruction project might be funded.
However, any such undertaking is likely to require considerable financial resources beyond the current reach of Afghanistan's largely bankrupt government.
As well as touring the ruins, Karzai's visit to Bamiyan was also designed to show support for the ethnic Hazara community in the area.
The Hazara, who are Shiite Muslims, are a minority in Afghanistan but are the largest ethnic group in Bamiyan.
Recently evidence of their harsh treatment under Taliban rule has come to light with the discovery of several mass graves in the area.
The Hazaras say thousands of their people were slaughtered in killings orchestrated by the Taliban with many more forced to flee the area after Taliban soldiers evicted them from their homes.
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