A new documentary has revealed that two Chinese state-owned mining companies have plans to destroy an ancient Buddhist city of 'Mes Aynak' in Afghanistan for copper mining.
According to the film 'Saving Mes Aynak', Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) and Jiangxi Copper are in the initial stages of building an open-pit copper mine, 40km southeast of Kabul. The location is home to a walled Buddhist city that dates back 5,000 years, reports the South China Morning Post.
According to the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, the site is also home to the world's second-largest copper deposit. China is an importer of copper and a major global refiner of the industrial metal.
In 2007, under the administration of the then Afghan president Hamid Karzai, the MCC agreed to pay Kabul USD three billion to lease the Mes Aynak area for 30 years.
MCC plans to extract more than USD 100 billion worth of copper that is directly beneath the Buddhist city which the archaeologists are trying to save, according to the documentary.
Zabih Sarwari, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, said the project was slated to start after the completion of a feasibility study.
About 2,300 items had been removed from the site to the National Museum of Afghanistan, Sarwari said.
"I feel pity if they allow it. The World Bank, in collaboration with the Afghan government, tried to remove the heritage [site] to safety, but this act in itself is a breach of international standards and laws on archaeology" said Javed Noorani of the NGO Integrity Watch Afghanistan.
The residents of at least a dozen villages were permanently cleared out to make way for the mining work, according to the documentary, most of which was filmed in 2013.
In the film, the deputy president of MCC, Zhengou Liu, claims those villagers were informed in advance and says that "MCC has outsourced some jobs to Afghan companies and is providing jobs to Afghans".
Brent Huffman, the director of Saving Mes Aynak, said he's sceptical about that claim. "Chinese companies have a history of making big promises to third world countries," he said.
Mes Aynak would qualify as a UN world heritage site, according to one archaeologist.
According to Silk Road archaeologist and advisor to world heritage body UNESCO, Tim Williams, Mes Aynack would qualify as a globally protected site if the Afghan Government applies for that status.