UNESCO chief saddened by fire and death at major Ugandan cultural site

Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi (UNESCO/Sébastien Moriset)

17 March 2010 – The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today expressed her sorrow over the fire that destroyed the Tombs of Buganda Kings, a World Heritage List site in Uganda.

Two people were killed during protests sparked by anger at the destruction of the site yesterday.

Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s Director-General, appealed for calm, saying the agency stands ready to help Ugandan authorities to assess damage and take remedial action to restore the religious site.

“The Tombs of the Buganda Kings at Kasubi is a World Heritage site of great cultural and spiritual significance. The destruction of this site is a tragic loss for the whole world,” said Ms Bokova. “I am also deeply distressed to learn that two people lost their lives in protests that followed the fire, and hope there will be a swift return to calm at this difficult time,” she said.

Located on the Kasubi Hill, five kilometres from Kampala city centre, the historic site, including four royal tombs, suffered extensive damage in the fire, whose cause has not yet been established. The site’s buildings were made of dry grass thatch and wood and efforts to put out the fire were unsuccessful.

According to media reports, police shot two people in a crowd that staged a protest at the site suspecting that the blaze was an act of arson.

The Tombs of the Buganda Kings were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2001, recognized as “a masterpiece of human creativity and an eloquent manifestation” of the cultural traditions of the Baganda people, Uganda’s largest ethnic group. The site has been an important centre of religious activity for the Baganda people since it was established in 1860.

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