Mr Minister of Information and Culture of Afghanistan, Mr President of the General-Conference, Madame Director-General of UNESCO, Director-General of ISESCO, Director-General of ICCROM, Excellencies, Colleagues and friends, First, I should like to express my sincere gratitude to Governments, donor countries and partner Organisations, to all international experts and UNESCO staff at Headquarters and on the ground, who are bearing witness to the international community’s continued commitment to preserve and rehabilitate the endangered heritage around the world. Ladies and Gentlemen, Cultural heritage is central to a people’s cultural identity. The heritage of the Bamiyan Valley is as generous as the shining light which once gave its name to this remarkable place. So many cultural monuments and archeological remains of outstanding value found in this single area are attesting to the abundance of the country’s great legacy to the world and generations to come. For centuries, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and other religions have co-existed in this region; it has stood over thousands of years as an essential crossroads for various civilizations – China, India, Persia, Central Asia, the Middle East and beyond. The Buddhist art and spiritual role of Bamiyan influenced the prosperous cultural and religious interchange along the Silk Road. The preservation of this universal heritage is, therefore, critical to the whole of humankind; especially so that no further destruction is tolerated following the deliberate dynamiting of the Buddha statues 10 years ago, in Bamiyan and at other sites throughout Afghanistan. UNESCO responds firmly to the challenges of the safeguarding and recovering of all aspects of cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible. World Heritage preservation remains one of the most important activities of the Organisation’s programme. As Chairperson of the Executive Board, I can ensure you that this question is one to which the Member States are paying particular attention and whole-heartedly support. Likewise, UNESCO is determined to pursue the mobilization in favour of Afghanistan’s heritage, in particular concerning its preservation activities in Bamiyan, focusing its action on the protection of remaining non-Islamic, Islamic and pre-Islamic heritage, through specific educational plans and awareness-raising programmes, and through a dialogue of a religious nature with all parties involved in the process. To this end, with a view to promoting the Islamic debate, there is a constant need to secure philosophical and religious knowledge from internationally established specialists in that field, notably through extended cooperation with the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the International Centre for the Study of Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property. Today’s gathering affords us the opportunity to reaffirm these partnerships and to reiterate the benefits of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue for the purposes of reconciliation, peace-building and tolerance. Cultural heritage can and must continue to play a crucial role in building shared national identity through positive exchanges that promote rapprochement of cultures and sustainable development. Today’s international forum is also an occasion to make a strong appeal to our common sense of solidarity that the future progress of Bamiyan and other Afghani sites is guaranteed the necessary financial backing. Dear Colleagues, In conclusion, I would like to quote the Protection and Development of the Bamiyan Valley report of the mission that UNESCO organized forty years ago, in 1970. The following statement is in my view a question of quite topical interest: “Considering what is at stake in such a project at a time when, throughout the world, men are afraid that the most beautiful places will disappear for ever, Bamiyan must continue to bear its witness to the past”. Your deliberations today are part of the noble endeavour that must go on. Thank you very much.