By: Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press

Posted: 03/11/2011

The U.N. culture agency and the Afghan government are against the reconstruction of one of two giant 1,500-year-old Buddha statues dynamited by the Taliban in central Afghanistan 10 years ago at this time, the agency’s assistant chief said.

UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture Francesco Bandarin said the agency has asked for a feasibility study for reconstructing the smaller Buddha, which several German scientists have been promoting and will carry out.

But Bandarin told a briefing Thursday that the study “doesn’t change our position on the reconstruction, which we think is not feasible” and would unnecessarily divert resources from other priorities at the UNESCO world heritage site in the Bamiyan Valley.

The two statues, standing 54 metres (60 yards) and 38 metres (40 yards) tall, were chiseled about 400 metres (435 yards) apart into a cliff face teeming with cave shrines and paintings about 1,500 years ago when Bamiyan was a major Buddhist centre.

The Taliban dynamited the giant Buddhas in March 2001, deeming them idolatrous and anti-Muslim, prompting a worldwide outcry.

Since the fall of the Taliban regime in November 2001, Bandarin said the niches where the Buddhas stood have been stabilized and 20-30 per cent of the giant Buddha and 40-50 per cent of the smaller Buddha have been recovered.

“But this material doesn’t have any shape,” he said. “It’s just pieces of rock … because the statue was actually carved, and then it was plastered. The plaster is dust, but the plaster was giving the shape.”

At a meeting last week of the International Committee for Bamiyan at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters, Bandarin said there was “complete agreement” among the experts that it isn’t possible to reconstruct the great Buddha but there was disagreement on the smaller Buddha.

Even though there are more pieces of the smaller Budhha, he said, “there are significant doubts that a reconstruction is possible because reconstruction will require a lot of integrations what at the end will result in a fake.”

Afghanistan’s Culture Minister Makhdoom Raheem attended the meeting, Bandarin said, and was “quite in agreement with us because they see the need to focus on things that are essential.”

Bandarin said the vast Bamiyan site, which stretches for up to 15 kilometres (9 miles), is famous for the Buddhas, but it was for centuries the most important Buddhist centre on the entire Silk Road between China and the west and therefore it became an important monestary.

“There are over 1,500 monastic caves in Bamiyan, which in effect constitute the value of the site,” he said. “Part of it is still unexplored. Part of it still needs to be preserved.”