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Fate of Buddha Statues in Afghanistan Unclear
(Reutor, March 3)

KABUL, Afghanistan (news - web sites) (Reuters) - The fate of the world's two most famous giant Buddha statues in Afghanistan was unclear Sunday due to conflicting reports on whether their destruction has started or if the Taliban rulers would reverse their decision.

``We have not begun destroying them yet, but we have prepared for it and that can take place any time,'' a Taliban source told Reuters.

But other Taliban officials in the Afghan capital Kabul said that piece-by-piece demolition of the soaring statues of Buddha in Bamiyan -- the tallest in the world and Afghanistan's best-known archaeological treasures -- was already under way.

There was no immediate way of independently confirming the fate of the two statues because Bamiyan in central Afghanistan is about two days drive from Kabul and the Taliban were not allowing any observers to go to the area.

The two Buddhas, towering 175 feet and 120 feet high in cliff-side niches, are the first known examples of the massive Buddha images that spread through Asia.

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) said Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil told an envoy of the Paris-based United Nations (news - web sites) cultural agency, UNESCO (news - web sites), that the decision to destroy the statues was unlikely to be reversed.

Muttawakil made the statement after meeting Pierre Lafrance in the southern city of Kandahar Sunday where Lafrance had come to make a last-minute appeal to the Taliban to stop the demolition of the two statues.

``I assured him that I will give his message to the Taliban leadership but I also told him that I see no indication that the decision to destroy the idols would be changed,'' Muttawakil said.

``This is an issue of Shariah (Islamic law) and a religious decree. To change that is beyond the power of anyone,'' AIP quoted him as telling Lafrance.

Taliban Ignore Appeals

Information and Culture Minister Qudratullah Jamal told Reuters the Islamic movement would not reverse its decision to demolish the statues and other idols for which an edict was issued last week by Mullah Mohammad Omar, the supreme Taliban leader.

``The Taliban will not accept any appeal to reverse their decision,'' Jamal said Sunday.

The Taliban have ignored all calls to stop the destruction saying they were merely carrying out an Islamic ban on images of living things -- part of their efforts to create the world's purest Muslim state.

India has termed the demolition of the Buddhas ``a regression into medieval barbarism'' and offered to take charge of them.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee (news - web sites) said Sunday that the destruction of Buddha statues was senseless and an insult to all religions.

Muslim Iran, which has tense relations with Kabul, has also asked the Taliban to spare them saying the monuments were part of the ``country's cultural and national heritage and belong to the history of the region's civilisation in which all humanity has a share.''

AIP earlier quoted Muttawakil as saying the Taliban had rejected Sunday an offer from Iran to buy and take away the two Buddhas.

``We told Iran that it is our duty to preserve our heritage but it was a religious obligation to destroy idols,'' AIP quoted Muttawakil as saying.

Pakistan, one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban government, and Buddhist Sri Lanka have also sought to dissuade the radical Islamic movement from its plan.

The Taliban, who rule more than 90 percent of war-torn Afghanistan, appear undaunted by the international wrath, even at a time when the country is facing a humanitarian crisis and critically needs foreign aid.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghans are fleeing their homes because of prolonged factional fighting and the worst drought in 30 years. The United Nations has reported that hundreds of Afghans have died of cold and hunger.


Updated: 3-3-2001

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