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Taliban reject UNESCO plea over statues: Report
(AFP, March 5, 2001)

KABUL: UNESCO special envoy Pierre Lafrance on Sunday failed to persuade Afghanistan's Taliban militia to stop the demolition of the country's pre-Islamic cultural heritage, a report said.

Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel said he had detailed discussions with Lafrance in the militia's southern bastion of Kandahar but could see no reason to stop the destruction, the private Afghan Islamic Press reported.

"I do not see any chance to change our decision and stop the demolition of these statues," he was quoted as saying after the talks.

Lafrance, the former French ambassador to Iran and Pakistan, was sent Friday from Europe on an emergency mission to persuade the fundamentalist Islamic militia to stop destroying the country's precious statues.

Mutawakel said the envoy presented him with a message from UNESCO chief Koichiro Matsuura demanding a halt to the destruction.

"Words fail me to describe adequately my feelings of consternation and powerlessness as I see the reports of the irreversible damage that is being done to Afghanistan's exceptional cultural heritage," Matsuura said last week.

Taliban officials said the destruction, designed to stop idolatry, was nearly complete despite an international outcry.

"The edict will be implemented Inshallah (God willing)," Mutawakel said shortly before Lafrance's arrival from neighbouring Pakistan.

"We would like to see the UNESCO enovy. It is good that we can explain to him that what we are doing is an internal issue and we do not want to confront the world."

Afghanistan's most famous monuments are two statues of Buddha in central Bamiyan province, which stand 50 meters (165 feet) and 34.5 meters tall and were carved into sandstone cliffs between the second and fifth centuries AD,

Officials said Sunday large portions of them had already been destroyed and the "work" would be finished soon.

Thousands of other ancient statues had also been destroyed throughout the country in line with the edict issued Monday by Taliban Supreme Leader Mulla Mohammad Omar, they said.


Updated: 5-3-2001

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