UN denies signing controversial Buddha birthplace deal

August 19th, 2011 - 6:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 19 (IANS) The controversy surrounding a little-known Hong Kong-based organisation’s claim that it was going to develop the Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal into a “Buddhist Mecca” in a $3 billion project signed with a UN agency deepened Friday with the UN body distancing itself from the dubious deal.

Issuing a statement from Vienna, the UN Industrial Development Organization, that was claimed as a project partner by the Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (APECF), Friday said it had signed no memorandum of understanding to develop Lumbini, the sacred birthplace.

“The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has not entered into any valid contractual agreement with the APECF, and therefore is not involved in any activities related to the Lumbini Special Development Zone in Nepal,” the UN body said.

“An intended Memorandum of Understanding between UNIDO and APECF was never approved by the responsible UNIDO approval bodies. Any reference to a UNIDO involvement in the Lumbini Special Development Zone is thus without any legal and substantive basis.”

With the categorical denial coming from UNIDO, Nepal’s Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav called a press conference in the capital, saying the $3 billion deal was just a rumour and with the UN body’s denial, the chapter was closed.

The denials expose one of the grandest international hoaxes ever in which Nepal’s largest party, the Maoists, are deeply involved.

Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who is campaigning for his party to lead the new government, has been the sole defender of the controversial deal that was announced without any knowledge of Nepal, the host country.

Prachanda, who is also the co-chairman of APECF, recently went to Malaysia to attend a secret meeting of the organisation and, on his return, defended the deal to develop Lumbini with an international airport, rail links, motels and a Buddhist university, saying the Nepal government was being apprised of the matter.

The Hong Kong NGO’s credentials were doubted further when it was found that Nepal’s unpopular deposed crown prince Paras Bir Bikram Shah was also a co-chairman.

Nepal’s culture ministry, which is entrusted with developing and preserving Lumbini, had said it had no information about the APEC project and would not allow it to proceed.

However, China’s envoy to Nepal, Yang Houlan, disclosed the fact that Nepal’s tourism and civil aviation ministry, headed by the Maoists, had already signed an MoU with APEC but had not informed the other relevant ministries like culture, finance and foreign affairs.

The controversy received fresh fuel this week with a former UN assistant secretary general Kul Chandra Gautam doubting the genuineness of the project and its host and raising questions about its financial capability.

Concerns have also been raised in Nepal about a possible adverse Indian reaction to the project as Lumbini lies close to the Indian border.

Increased Chinese presence in the sensitive area could ruffle India’s feathers and create additional tension in the region, which Nepal could ill afford, senior journalist Kanak Mani Dixit wrote.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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