BAMIYAN, Afghanistan. "Afghan laborers are collecting the pieces of two once-towering Buddha statues five years after the Taliban blew them up.
While they wait for the Afghan government and international community to decide whether to rebuild them, a $1.3 million UNESCO-funded project is sorting out the chunks of clay and plaster — ranging from boulders weighing several tons to fragments the size of tennis balls — and sheltering them from the elements.
Progress is slow in the central highland town of Bamiyan where the statues were chiseled more than 1,500 years ago into a cliff face about 1/4 mile apart. Rebuilding the statues, one 174 feet tall and the other 115 feet, will be like assembling giant jigsaw puzzles.
The Taliban dynamited the Buddha statues in March 2001, deeming them idolatrous and anti-Muslim. It was one of the regime's most widely condemned acts.
"Our job is to safeguard the pieces left from the Buddha statues and put the fragments in a shelter," said Ernst Blochinger, with the International Council on Monuments and Sites. The Paris-based group is working with UNESCO on the project."
© The Associated Press / Arizona Daily Star
© Photography: UNESCO