- It's all over for Bamyan Buddhas
KABUL (March 5, 2001): Taliban officials said Sunday that Afghanistan's ancient Bamiyan
Buddhas were nearly destroyed and ruled out any hope for their preservation, ignoring
pleas of the UNESCO special envoy Pierre Lafrance.
Foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil said he had detailed discussions with Lafrance
in Kandahar but could see no reason to stop the destruction, the Afghan Islamic Press
``The edict will be implemented Inshallah (God willing),'' Mutawakil said. He
rejected offers from several countries as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New
York. ``Why should we give them to anyone? They are against our beliefs. We have museums
here and we will keep our cultural and historical artifacts there,'' he said.
Minister of information and culture Mawlawi Qudratullah Jamal said the destruction of
``un-Islamic'' ancient statues was continuing throughout the country. He said large
portions of the two massive Buddha figures in central Bamiyan province had already been
reduced to rubble, along with thousands of other statues throughout the country. ``Work is
in progress on them. They are massive if you see them closely,'' he said.
Witnesses said Taliban soldiers were using anti-aircraft weapons, tanks and explosives
to pound the statues. Residents of Bamiyan said Taliban soldiers began attacking the
statues at least three days earlier.
``I could see the Taliban soldiers firing antiaircraft weapons at the two statues. That
was three days ago,'' said Safdar Ali, a resident who arrived Sunday in Kabul from
Bamiyan. ``The soldiers wouldn't let us get too close so I couldn't see how much was
damaged. We just left the area,'' he said.
Journalists have been barred from visiting the Kabul Museum and the Bamiyan province
where the Taliban have recently engaged in heavy battles with armed opposition forces.
The Islamic militia last week began smashing statues around the country to prevent
idolatry, but Lafrance said Saturday there was a ``faint glimpse of hope'' they could
still be saved. He cited conflicting reports from Taliban officials about the extent of
the destruction so far.
The Group of Eight and the European Union expressed ``dismay and shock'' at the
destruction and urged Afghan leaders not to implement ``this deeply tragic decision.''
Jamal said that while the action against the statues had nothing to do with the
regime's craving for international recognition, the UN would have more influence in
Kandahar if it did not still recognise the ousted government. ``We tell the UN to go and
ask (ousted president Burhanuddin Rabbani) for the statues' preservation, because they
recognize him,'' he said.
Lafrance, the former French ambassador to Iran and Pakistan, on Saturday met the
Taliban ambassador in Islamabad and expressed the world's outrage.