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Egyptians Living Above Tombs Agree to Go

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By SIERRA MILLMAN
The Associated Press
Saturday, December 2, 2006; 6:47 PM

LUXOR, Egypt -- After six decades of wrangling, Egyptians living in the hills near Luxor have agreed to move out and give tourists and archaeologists access to nearly 1,000 Pharaonic tombs that lie beneath their homes, the government said Saturday.

Officials said most of 3,200 families in the brightly painted, mud-brick houses have agreed to pack up and move to a $32 million residential complex being built three miles away. No deadline for moving has been set and there is no target date for finishing the complex.

"Most of them want to leave and they demand to leave," said Rania Yusuf, a spokeswoman for Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities in Luxor.

Only a few families continue to resist, "and they will leave, believe me," Yusuf said.

The government began trying to get the families to leave after World War II, but talks repeatedly bogged down. Many residents, who depend on Luxor's tourist business to earn livings, argued that new homes being offered were too small and didn't come with new jobs.

Over time, though, many grew tired of the standoff.

In an effort to preserve the ancient tombs, authorities prohibited the homeowners from adding to their residences or installing modern plumbing, which forced people to bring water uphill using donkeys.

Many people expressed happiness with the government's latest offer, which includes giving residents either new homes or plots of land in the complex that will include a market, police station, cultural center and schools.

"We are happy, but at the same time we are not happy, because we leave the best place here," said Nadia Mohammad Qassem, who is unsure of when she and her family will move.

The area being vacated is near the Valley of the Kings and its famous collection of well-preserved tombs that draw thousands of tourists daily to Luxor. Egyptians moved into the Theban hills after the arrival of European antiquity hunters in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, offering jobs to help excavate _ and loot _ artifacts.

Elina Paulin-Grothe, an archaeologist involved in tomb excavation, said the best way to preserve the artifacts below is to move the residents.

"This cannot continue and the population is growing too fast," she said.

Advocates for the residents said many resisted moving over the decades not because they didn't want to live in more modern homes but because they wanted to move on their own terms.

"I mean, nobody wants to live in those conditions when they know that most of Egypt doesn't live like that and the world has moved on," said Caroline Simpson, a former archaeologist who coordinates a small cultural exhibition on the hillside.

Despite the agreement, some people are bittersweet about giving up their hillside homes, no matter that their living conditions are poor.

"For me, I don't want to even imagine what it would look like. Without houses, it's a dead place," said Abdo Osman Daramali.


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© 2006 The Associated Press

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