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We're breaking stones only: Taliban

KABUL (Wednesday February 28, 2001): The leader of the Taliban militia in Afghanistan on Tuesday shrugged off international condemnation of his order to destroy ancient Buddhist statues, saying "all we are breaking are stones."

Mulla Mohammad Omar said he had issued his order to destroy all statues in Afghanistan in line with "Islamic" beliefs. "The breaking of statues is an Islamic order and I have given this decision in the light of a fatwa of the ulema (clerics) and the supreme court of Afghanistan. Islamic law is the only law acceptable to me," he said from the fundamentalist militia's stronghold in southern Kandahar.

Afghanistan, a Buddhist centre before Islamic conquerors invaded around 1,400 years ago, is famous for its two massive and ancient Buddha statues in the central province of Bamiyan, dating back to the second century.

In deeply Buddhist Thailand, Foreign Ministry spokesman Pradap Pibulsonggram said the loss of the Bamiyan Buddhas would be a "loss to humanity."

The government of Sri Lanka, a majority Buddhist nation, expressed "grave concern" about the order. "If true, this is a very serious matter and we are gravely concerned," said government spokesman Ariya Rubasinghe.

In Tokyo, Hokkaido University's professor emeritus of Buddhism Kotatsu Fujita said: "Even though the statues are in Afghanistan, they are really world heritage sites now. I strongly doubt the Taliban's understandings of cultural heritage."

But Omar said Afghan history was secondary to the history of Islam. "Whoever thinks this is harmful to the history of Afghanistan then I tell them they must first see the history of Islam."

Other Afghans, however, expressed outrage at the Taliban order. Hamid Karzai, a former deputy foreign minister in the ousted government of Burhanuddin Rabbani, said the statues are no longer a part of religion, but are now a part of the country's heritage.


Updated: 3-3-2001

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