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Switzerland asked to return Buddha pieces

The Taliban regime destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001(www.unich.it) swissinfo.ch

Afghanistan has formally asked Switzerland to inspect a customs depot for fragments of the giant Bamiyan Buddha statues that were blown up by the former Taliban regime.

This content was published on October 22, 2003 - 12:46

The Swiss justice ministry said the request came after an international specialist claimed to have spotted the fragments.

“In the event that the Buddha pieces are found in the customs warehouse, the Afghan [culture] minister has asked that they be returned as soon as possible,” confirmed ministry spokesman Folco Galli.

He said that the Afghan culture ministry had based its request on claims by an antiques expert that he had seen parts of the Bamiyan Buddhas in a duty-free warehouse in Geneva.

Thumb-sized holes

The French-language “Le Temps” newspaper quoted an unidentified person who had also allegedly seen the fragments as saying: “The large pieces of rock had thumb-sized holes in them.

“In places a layer of fine earth and straw covered the surface. On other parts there was a kind of beige, shiny plaster which was crumbling.”

The two statues of Buddha were carved into a rock face in the Bamiyan valley more than 1,800 years ago and stood 55 and 38 metres-tall.

The militant Taliban regime ordered the statues to be blown up in 2001 on the grounds they were idolatrous and un-Islamic, sparking an international outcry.

Scientists from the Federal Institute for Technology in Zurich are preparing to rebuild the Buddhas, which were the oldest and tallest standing statues in the world.

With the help of a global positioning system and markers, scientists have created a 3D computer image of the niches and the whole cliff, which measures more than one kilometre in length.

Transit

Switzerland has frequently been criticised as a transit point for the lucrative trade in stolen artefacts.

Last month, Switzerland agreed to provide the Egyptian authorities with details of ancient artefacts discovered at the Geneva depot, including 280 statues, masks and two mummies.

Switzerland was cooperating with Egypt’s chief prosecutor, who was conducting a criminal inquiry into “a number of persons who are thought to have carried out illegal excavations at several archaeological sites, taken possession of countless archaeological artefacts and then subsequently sold or exported them”, the justice ministry said.

“Le Temps” reported that international antiquities traders appear to favour the Geneva customs area, where they can rent well-guarded storage space in a vast “Ali Baba cavern … filled with precious objects and valuable pieces.”

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Buddhist monks carved the statues into a cliff in the Bamiyan valley more than 1,800 years ago.
At 55 and 38 metres-tall, they were the world’s tallest and oldest standing statues.
Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime destroyed the Buddha statues in March 2001.
It condemned them as idolatrous and un-Islamic.

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