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NZ troops accused of damaging Afghan Buddha s -

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NZ troops accused of damaging Afghan Buddha statues

The World Today - Monday, 5 May , 2008 12:44:00

Reporter: Kerri Ritchie

ELEANOR HALL: The New Zealand Defence Force has spent the morning defending its troops over
accusations that they damaged the remains of the World Heritage-listed Bamiyan Buddha statues in
Afghanistan.

The ancient statues have already suffered a great deal, most recently when they were deliberately
blown apart by the Taliban seven years ago. Now, an Afghan Government official has accused New
Zealand troops of causing more damage, when they carried out a controlled explosion in the area.

New Zealand correspondent, Kerri Ritchie, has our report.

KERRI RITCHIE: The 34-metre high statues were chiselled in a cliff face 2,000 years ago, when
Bamiyan was a major centre for Buddhism.

But in 2001, the Taliban used dynamite to blow the Buddhas up, claiming they were anti-Muslim and
in breach of an Islamic law banning statues. It was one of the regime's most widely condemned acts.

Now, seven years on, Bamiyan's chief of information and culture, Najibullah Harar, believes more
damage has been inflicted, this time by New Zealand troops. He says a controlled explosion of
ammunition has resulted in cracks in a statue and a wall.

New Zealand Defence Force spokesman, Captain Zach Prendergast, says his team carried out a thorough
assessment of the site and the explosion happened 60 metres from the statues.

ZACH PRENDERGAST: The rocket was located approximately 50 metres to the right of the smaller Buddha
and was buried at the foot of the bank. What they did was covered the area and covered the rocket
with sandbags and then when they had blown the detonation, the effect at the head was it created a
crated which was approximately 400 millimetres wide by about 150 millimetres deep.

KERRI RITCHIE: He says New Zealand troops haven't done anything wrong.

ZACH PRENDERGAST: And that's now being proven. The UN mission head for the Bamiyan area, the deputy
director of culture and antiquities, our provincial reconstruction team commander, have all gone up
and seen that and seen that there's been no damage.

KERRI RITCHIE: Brendan Cassar is the chief of UNESCO's cultural program in Afghanistan.

He says officials have visited the site and he is satisfied that New Zealand troops haven't caused
more damage.

BRENDAN CASSAR: And I think it would be highly unlikely that from the photographs I've seen that
any further damage to the small Buddha would have occurred.

KERRI RITCHIE: But he is concerned, however, about the lack of communication. He says NATO troops
didn't inform UNESCO about the controlled explosion.

BRENDAN CASSAR: It might be that the administrative information and culture, which is the ministry
responsible for cultural heritage management in this country, it might have been that they were not
contacted, although other authorities were, so it's just a question of that flow of information.

KERRI RITCHIE: Captain Zach Prendergast admits the lines of communication can sometimes get tangled
in Afghanistan, but he says New Zealand troops are working hard to protect the country's sacred
sites, not destroy them.

ZACH PRENDERGAST: I suppose that in that area, there can be problems with communications with the
different agencies and so on. All I know is that, you know, there were widely different reports
that were sent to us and given to us by various media outlets of what the damage was.

There were different reports. Some were saying that the blast was between five to 10 yards away,
100 metres away, half a mile away. So, we're always working through all that the whole time.

We work in a complete agency environment, it's not something we do by ourselves, and so on. So, I
imagine that there'll be checks amongst all those agencies to make sure that these things are done
and that.

But our guys are out there having the first day they were in fear to the bombs. The bomb disposal
team destroyed 1.7 tonnes of munitions and with the strength, all the work is just getting busier.
So yeah, there's plenty of work to be done, that's for sure.

ELEANOR HALL: That's New Zealand Defence Force spokesman, Captain Zach Prendergast, ending that
report by New Zealand correspondent, Kerri Ritchie.