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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 reported.

``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.


Updated: 5-3-2001

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