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World reacts in horror as Taliban begin rampage

KABUL (March 2, 2001): International outrage escalated on Friday as Afghanistan's Taliban militia pressed on with their "Islamic" mission to smash ancient statues across the country.

The European Union described as "deeply tragic" the destruction of statues, including the world's tallest standing Buddha built almost 2,000 years ago.

"It is with dismay and shock that the EU has received information about the edict of the Taliban leader Mulla Omar, in which the destruction of all statues and shrines in Afghanistan is ordered," the EU presidency in Stockholm said.


France warned the ruling militia late Thursday that it was stoking "hostility" to its regime in the world's capitals by destroying its pre-Islamic heritage with flagrant disregard for international opinion.

France recently received two senior officials from the puritanical regime, which is recognised only by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and is not represented at the United Nations.

"It is not with such behaviour that the Taliban will be able to come closer to the international community," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.


UN special envoy to Afghanistan Francesc Vendrell told AFP he discussed the edict with the Taliban foreign minister in Kabul Thursday but was told "the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) is not in the habit of rescinding their edicts."

"I told him that the international community is baffled at the moment and it would create international outrage if the edict is carried out," Vendrell said.

"It's going to have negative implications for the Taliban's image around the world."

Appeals to spare the Afghan relics have come from the United States, France, Germany, Thailand, Japan, Sri Lanka, Iran, Pakistan, Germany, Russia, India, the European Union, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and many museums and Buddhist organisations.(AFP)

Nepal denounced the ongoing destruction saying "it is deeply shocked and concerned at the destruction of the images of the apostle of peace," the foreign ministry said, quoted by the state RSS news agency.

The ministry called the destruction of the statues "reprehensible and unfortunate" and appealed for international diplomatic efforts to save Buddhist sites in Afghanistan.

By Friday afternoon, Taliban fighters were attacking the two giant stone Buddhas, estimated to have been built between the second and fifth centuries AD, with rockets, tank shells and even automatic rifles.

The Lord Buddha was believed to have been born at Lumbini, southwest of Kathmandu, in the sixth century.

"The Japanese government is deeply concerned," said Kazuhiko Koshikawa, spokesman for Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. "Those statues are assets to all human beings."

"If they are ruined, it would be an immeasurable loss," he said. "The Japanese government hopes that Taliban will review such a decision and take appropriate measures."

Taliban troops armed with everything from tanks to rocket launchers began destroying all the statues in Afghanistan on Thursday because the works of art were deemed idolatrous.

The Taliban imposes its own strict brand of Islam in the 95 percent of Afghanistan which it controls.

Anger over the order has been particularly strong in Buddhist areas of Asia because the works include two huge Buddhas carved into a cliff in Bamiyan province, about 125 kilometers (90 miles) west of the capital, Kabul. One of the statues is 175 feet (53 meters) high and dates to the 5th century; the other is 120 feet (36 meters) tall and dates to the 3rd century.


Updated: 3-3-2001

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