BELIZE CITY (AFP) - A construction company owned by a local politician demolished a 2,300-year-old Mayan temple in northern Belize to use the rubble as gravel for road repair work, authorities charged.
The ancient 30-metre high pyramid, which was reduced to a small mound of debris, was part of the Noh Mul ceremonial center located 80km north-west of Belize City near the border with Mexico.
"This total disregard for Belize's cultural heritage and national patrimony is callous, ignorant and unforgivable. This expressed disdain for our laws is incomprehensible," Tourism and Culture Minister Tracy Panton said on Belize's Channel 7 television late Tuesday.
The archeological complex, like all pre-Columbian ruins, was under the protection of the state even though it was located in a privately owned sugar cane plantation.
Noh Mul was the centre of a Mayan community of 40,000 people in the third century before the Christian era.
The pyramid's destruction was discovered at the end of last week, and authorities blamed the D-Mar construction company, which is owned by Denny Grijalva, a ruling party candidate for mayor of Belize City.
Mr Grijalva has denied any knowledge of what happened.
Ms Panton, promising a thorough investigation, said a report on what happened was being prepared and would be presented to authorities for action at the end of the week.
She acknowledged, however, that the penalties provided for under the law amount to no more than a US$10,000 fine, "which could never rectify the damage that has been done."
Jaime Awe, the director of the Belize Archeological Institute, expressed "incredible disbelief" in an interview with Belize's Channel 5 television.
"They were using this for road fill," he said.
Experts said there was no way the construction company could not have known they were Mayan ruins, and should have been aware of the importance of the site.
"I was extremely shocked that the intangible cultural heritage of the Maya community of Belize and humanity as a whole can deliberately be destroyed," Greg Ch'oc, a Mayan leader, told Channel 5.