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Destroy ancient statues: Taliban leader

KABUL (Tuesday February 27, 2001): Taliban militia supreme leader Mulla Mohammad Omar on Monday issued a decree ordering the destruction of all statues in Afghanistan including ancient pre-Islamic figures.

"Based on the verdict of the clergymen and the decision of the supreme court of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) all the statues around Afghanistan must be destroyed," said the decree.

The decree was issued as a team of western diplomats is visiting the Afghan capital to check reports that senior Taliban officials destroyed over a dozen pre-Islamic artefacts in the national museum.

Media reports have said zealous officials among the ruling Islamic militia recently destroyed several ancient relics in Kabul Museum, including an exquisite and priceless Buddha statue dating back some 2,000 years.

Taliban officials have categorically denied the reports but have refused journalists' requests to visit the museum.

The team includes the ambassadors to neighbouring Pakistan from Greece and Italy, the French charge d'affaires for Afghanistan, plus members of the Islamabad-based Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage.

The delegation called on Taliban Information and Culture Minister Qudratullah Jamal on Monday morning, a team member said.

But the source said the envoys were denied immediate access to the museum.

"We talked with the minister. He called these reports baseless propaganda and said he would ask the higher authorities for permission (to visit the museum)," the team member said.

Taliban supreme leader Mulla Mohammad Omar has issued several decrees to protect non-Islamic artefacts, which have in the past been targeted by the militia's zealous commanders.

However there is concern that some hardline officials still see the relics as idols which are forbidden under Islamic law.

Kabul museum has been closed to the public since 1992 after most of its unique collection was looted during factional fighting between Afghan warlords.

The Taliban, or movement of religious students, seized Kabul in 1996 and have imposed a very strict version of Sharia law.


Updated: 3-3-2001

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