Afghans plan museums to replace moonscapes

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It has been described as one of the great acts of cultural desecration of modern times, a rampant pillage that threatens to denude a country of much of its fabulous heritage. But now Afghanistan is stepping up an ambitious campaign to stop the looting of the country's archaeological sites, with a programme to build museums, train archaeologists and repatriate the billions of dollars worth of stolen antiquities that have been spirited through its porous borders during the past seven years.

"We're in the process of building 10 provincial museums, training more archaeologists, repatriating stolen treasures and making a red-list of [looted] art works," the deputy culture minister, Omar Sultan, said during an official visit to Greece.

"But we also desperately need to educate young Afghans about the importance of their culture," he told the Guardian. "There is a whole generation out there who have only ever known weapons and war. If they are sensitised, if they can be made to feel there is a cultural heritage of which they can be proud, they can influence their parents who help the gangs."

The authorities are starting to make progress with repatriating stolen artefacts retrieved from overseas: in the past year, thousands of treasures have been repatriated from Denmark and Switzerland. Four tonnes of valuable items, holed up at Heathrow airport since 2005, are also due to be returned in coming weeks.

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