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Lanka moves to save Buddhas

COLOMBO (Thursday March 1, 2001): Sri Lanka, which is a seat of Theravada Buddhism, Wednesday launched a major diplomatic offensive aimed at saving the historic Buddha statues threatened by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar asked his envoys in India, Thailand, Myanmar and Nepal to have urgent consultations to work out a common international strategy to deal with the threat, a statement said.

It said the minister who is currently visiting the United Arab Emirates also asked Sri Lanka's ambassador in France to urge the UNESCO to take action to prevent the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas.

Sri Lanka had earlier expressed deep concern over the order issued by the Muslim fundamentalist militia's supreme leader Mulla Mohammad Omar to destroy all statues in Afghanistan, including pre-Islamic figures of the Buddha.

Minister Kadirgamar said he had also taken the issue up with his Pakistan counterpart, Abdus Sattar.

"The Pakistani Foreign Minister who also expressed concern at this latest development said that his government would do its utmost to safeguard these statues," the government here said.

A top Muslim leader in Sri Lanka, Rauf Hakeem, said he was raising the issue with the Taliban delegation in Saudi Arabia and urged them to spare the price-less statues "in the true spirit of religious tolerance as propagated by Islam."

Buddhists in Sri Lanka were horrified by the news that the two massive and ancient Buddha statues in Afghanistan's central province of Bamiyan, dating back to the second century, could be dynamited.

They are believed to be among the tallest standing Buddhas in the world. They stand 53 meters (175 feet) and 34.5 meters tall and date back to the second century AD.

A leading Sri Lankan Buddhist nun, Kusuma (Eds: one name) said there was no point in destroying them as they could not be erased from the minds of people across the world.

She recalled that the country had appealed to the Afghan authorities in April 1998 when there was a similar threat against the Bamiyan Buddha statues.

The serene face of the Buddha, the tallest of the statues in Bamiyan, had been disfigured during earlier fighting.

de said the act of Taliban was not only "un-Islamic" but also "barbaric".


Updated: 3-3-2001

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