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Buddhist heritage of Afghanistan must be protected: Rajapaksa at UN

The Taliban had destroyed the ancient sandstone statues of Buddha at Bamiyan in 2001.

Published: 23rd September 2021 03:05 PM  |   Last Updated: 23rd September 2021 03:05 PM   |  A+A-

Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly. (Photo | AP)

By PTI

UNITED NATIONS: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has urged the United Nations and the international community to ensure the protection of the Buddhist heritage of Afghanistan under the Taliban, who had destroyed the ancient sandstone statues of Buddha at Bamiyan in 2001.

"If in keeping with the theme of our General Debate today, we are to truly build resilience through hope, we must all strive towards the common good. It is the role of the United Nations to facilitate this by treating all sovereign states, irrespective of size or strength, equitably, and with due respect for their institutions and their heritage," Rajapaksa said in his address to the high-level UN General Debate here Wednesday.

"I request the United Nations and the international community to ensure the protection of the Buddhist heritage of Afghanistan," he said adding that he calls on member states of the General Assembly to work together in a spirit of true cooperation, generosity, goodwill, and mutual respect to foster a better and more sustainable future for all humanity.

The Taliban had destroyed the ancient sandstone statues of Buddha at Bamiyan in 2001.

Taliban Government leader Mullah Mohammed Omar had ordered tanks and artillery to bombard and dynamite the huge statues carved in enormous mountain niches, beginning on March 2, 2001.

As the militant outfit took control of Kabul last month, and 20 years after the deliberate destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, a World Heritage site, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay called for the "preservation of Afghanistan's cultural heritage in its diversity, in full respect of international law, and for taking all necessary precautions to spare and protect cultural heritage from damage and looting".

UNESCO had said it is closely following the situation on the ground and is committed to exercising all possible efforts to safeguard the invaluable cultural heritage of Afghanistan.

A meaningful reconciliation with the Tamil community through domestic institutions is essential to achieve lasting peace in Sri Lanka, he said and stressed that his government is ready to engage with all stakeholders and to obtain the support of its international partners in the process.

Addressing the high-level UN General Debate here on Wednesday, Rajapaksa said that "until 2009", the country "had suffered from a separatist terrorist war for 30 years."

He said that in 2019, Sri Lanka experienced the devastation wrought by extremist religious terrorists in the Easter Sunday attacks that had killed over 250 people.

"Before that, until 2009," the country "had suffered from a separatist terrorist war for 30 years, he said, referring to the brutal conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

"Terrorism is a global challenge that requires international cooperation, especially on matters such as intelligence sharing, if it is to be overcome," Rajapaksa said.

He said fostering greater accountability, restorative justice, and meaningful reconciliation through domestic institutions is essential to achieve lasting peace.

"So too is ensuring more equitable participation in the fruits of economic development," he said adding that it is his Government's firm intention to build a prosperous, stable and secure future for all Sri Lankans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or gender.

Rajapaksa stressed that Sri Lanka is ready to engage with all domestic stakeholders and to obtain the support of its international partners and the United Nations, in this process.

The Sri Lankan leader said that violence had robbed his country of thousands of lives and decades of prosperity in the past half-century and he expressed the commitment of his government "to ensure that such violence never takes place in Sri Lanka again. We are therefore acting to address the core issues behind it."

"So too is ensuring more equitable participation in the fruits of economic development," he said adding that it is his government's firm intention to build a prosperous, stable and secure future for all Sri Lankans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or gender.

"However, history has shown that lasting results can only be achieved through home-grown institutions reflecting the aspirations of the people. Sri Lanka's Parliament, Judiciary and its range of independent statutory bodies should have unrestricted scope to exercise their functions and responsibilities."

Rajapaksa's comments came as the UN Human Rights Council last week announced in Geneva that they are in possession of some 120,000 pieces of evidence on alleged abuses committed by Sri Lankan troops during the final phase of the conflict with the LTTE.

Rajapaksa, in November 2019 upon being elected President said he had been elected by the Sinhala majority and would serve their interests.

He had previously adopted a stance of non-negotiations with the Tamil groups.

According to the Lankan government figures, over 20,000 people are missing due to various conflicts including the three-decade brutal war with Lankan Tamils in the north and east which claimed at least 100,000 lives.

The Tamils alleged that thousands were massacred during the final stages of the war that ended in 2009 when the government forces killed LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran.

The Sri Lankan Army denies the charge, claiming it as a humanitarian operation to rid the Tamils of LTTE's control.

At the end of the civil war, the United Nations accused both sides of atrocities, especially during the conflict's final stages.

International rights groups claim at least 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the final stages of the war, but the Sri Lankan government has disputed the figures.

Rajapaksa on Monday held a "fruitful discussion" with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on ways to jointly promote "reconciliation" in the country as the only way to move towards a prosperous future.

Rajapaksa called on Secretary-General Guterres at the UN headquarters in New York on Sunday and discussed with him the reconciliation process with the minority Tamil community in Sri Lanka.

During his address, Rajapaksa also pointed out that Sri Lanka has enjoyed a universal adult franchise since pre-Independence.

"The democratic tradition is an integral part of our way of life," he said, noting that his election in 2019 and the Parliamentary election in 2020 saw Sri Lankan voters grant an emphatic mandate to his Government to build a prosperous and stable country, and uphold national security and sovereignty.

Highlighting that the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially severe on developing countries, Rajapaksa said Sri Lanka welcomes the support of the international community as it engages in the task of reviving its economy and carrying out its national development programme.

"We intend to make full use of geostrategic location and our robust institutions, strong social infrastructure, and skilled workforce, to attract investment and broaden trade relationships," he said adding that his government is focusing on extensive legal, regulatory, administrative and educational reforms to facilitate this, and to deliver prosperity to all its people.

Underlining that the COVID19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on humanity, he said nations must recognise that the challenges surrounding production, distribution, deployment and acceptance of vaccines must be overcome urgently if the spread of dangerous new virus strains is to be prevented.

"Ensuring that everyone, everywhere, is vaccinated is the best way out of the pandemic," he said.



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