Tuesday, 15-Apr-2003 12:26PM
Story from AFP
Copyright 2003 by Agence France-Presse (via ClariNet)

NEW DELHI, INDIA, 15-APR-2003: The spiritual leader of Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims the Aga Khan (R) meets Indian opposition leader and Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi at the latter's residence in New Delhi, April 15, 2003. Khan is on six-day visit to India during which he will meet Indian leaders and visit the Taj Mahal. [Photo by Raveendran, copyright 2003 by AFP and ClariNet]

Aga Khan laments loss of cultural treasures in Iraq

NEW DELHI, April 15 (AFP) - The Aga Khan Tuesday lamented the loss of Iraqi cultural treasures amid widespread looting and warned that much of the world's heritage was at risk.

The billionaire spiritual leader of the world's 15 million Shia Ismaili Muslims also called for greater tolerance between cultures.

"The need for better understanding across cultures has never been greater in what is clearly a defining moment in world history," he said.

"The disappearing of the physical traces of the past deprives us of more than memories. We witnessed most poignantly across Afghanistan and now in Iraq, the very survival of so much of this heritage is now at risk."

Iraq's national museum has been ransacked and the national library looted and torched amid a breakdown in law and order following the ousting of Saddam Hussein's regime by US-led forces.

"In the troubled times in which we live, it is important to remember and honour a vision of a pluralistic society," the Aga Khan added.

He was speaking at the opening of a 650,000-dollar restoration at a 16th-century tomb in New Delhi.

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Archaelogical Survey of India jointly spent two years restoring garden fountains and water channels of the monument to Moghul ruler Humayun, which is a world heritage site.

He met Indian Finance Minister Jaswant Singh earlier in the day.

The Aga Khan, who is on the second day of a six-day visit here, was also to meet leaders of the Ismaili Muslim community which has roots in India going back many centuries.