Afghan Taliban authorities Saturday claimed an ancient mummy found recently in neighboring Pakistan was Afghanistan's property and should be returned to the ruling militia.
Information and Culture Minister Qudratullah Jamal said smugglers had confessed they had taken the mummy from the Afghan southwestern province of Nimroz bordering on Iran.
"This is a good document and proof" that the mummy was found somewhere inside Afghanistan, the minister told reporters.
"The property of Afghanistan should be returned to the Afghan people. Its sale and purchase are forbidden."
Jamal said the Taliban, controlling most of the country, had not yet asked Islamabad for the mummy's return.
He also said the ruling authorities considered a plan to move some of Kabul Museum's items which they believe were at risk.
According to reports from Pakistan the mummy, complete with a golden crown and breastplate, is in the Egyptian style but engravings on the plate are in ancient Persian.
It has been kept in southern Karachi since police retrieved it from a tribal headman in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's western Baluchistan province, who was trying to sell it for millions of dollars.
Earlir Iran claimed the mummy, saying it is the remains of an Achaemenian prince. The sarcophagus bears images of Ahura-Mazda, the god of Zoroastrianism, the ancient state religion of Persia.
Pakistani officials have said the mummy had been found in Pakistan and should therefore stay in the National Museum at Karachi.
The Taliban minister also said they planned to move some artifacts from the war-battered Kabul museum to an unknown place because the approaching winter could further damage them.
"We want to move those items which are at risk in the museum."
He said Kabul Museum, which was looted during Afghan factional fighting between 1992 and 1996, badly needed thorough repairs.
The museum, which has been left with only a limited number of relics, was to be repaired this year but the contractor failed to do the job, Jamal said.
He denied rumors that the Taliban authorities, famous for their ultra-orthodox interpretation of the Islamic Sharia law, wanted to destroy some non-Islamic items like Bhudda statues in Kabul Museum.
"This is enemy propaganda. To the contrary we have asked some aid agencies to give us chemicals for their better preservation," he said.
Taliban's supreme leader Mulla Mohammad Omar has issued numerous decrees for the protection of the country's heritage, he said -- KABUL (AFP)
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