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Despite Eid, Taliban dynamite Buddhas

KABUL (March 8): Taliban officials said dynamite was being used against Afghanistan's famous Bamiyan Buddhas despite the Eid-uz-Zuha Islamic holiday and fresh international protests on Tuesday.

The Taliban's ambassador to neighbouring Pakistan, one of only three countries which recognises the fundamentalist regime, told the Afghan Islamic Press that dynamite had been employed to finally break up the Buddhas.

"The destruction begun on Sunday and nearly one fourth of the two statues has been destroyed," ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef said, adding the work continued through the start of the holiday on Monday.

He said Tuesday that Taliban's supreme leader Mulla Mohammad Omar had rejected a proposal to build a concrete wall in front of the two Buddha status in central Bamiyan province.

"The statues will be destroyed in compliance with the order ... and so far there is no proposal under consideration," Zaeef said.

Taliban officials have said militiamen have been attacking the colossal stone Buddhas with rockets, tanks, gunpowder and tools such as spades and hammers, although the extent of the damage is impossible to verify.

Observers have been refused permission to go to central Bamiyan province, where the two statues, including the largest standing Buddha in the world, were hewn into a sandstone cliff more than 1,500 years ago.

The Taliban militia, which rules most of Afghanistan under a puritanical version of Islamic law, last week ordered the annihilation of all statues to prevent idolatry, sparking an international outcry.

Ahmad Bahram, a spokesman for anti-Taliban opposition group Hezb-e-Wahdat, confirmed only that the Bamiyan Bhuddas had been shelled. "We have heard that they have fired a few shells at the statues but they have not yet used dynamite," he said.

The US on Monday reiterated its appeal for the Taliban to leave the statues alone for future generations, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Contacts were made with the militia's representatives in Pakistan but the Americans were quickly rebuffed, he said.

"Afghanistan's ancient statues are an important part of the world's cultural legacy and the cultural heritage of Afghanistan," he said.

France also said it was pressing on with efforts to save the Buddhist heritage in Afghanistan. "We are maintaining close contact with all those who are striving to prevent the destruction of Afghanistan's pre-Islamic statues ... in particular with the countries that have official relations with Kabul," the French foreign ministry said.

In mostly Buddhist Thailand, the government on Tuesday said it "gravely condemns the acts of brutal vandalism and strongly urges the Afghan leaders to immediately stop the destruction of cultural and historical heritage."

Diplomats in Pakistan have privately indicated they do not believe the destruction is as extensive as the Taliban have said, and a UNESCO special envoy late Monday insisted the Bamiyan Buddhas could still be saved.

"All doors are not closed. Continuing and new consultations are taking place among theologians in Afghanistan," Pierre Lafrance said.

Lafrance, dispatched on an emergency mission from Europe on Friday, met top Taliban officials in Afghanistan Sunday and is expected to return for further talks after Eid.

But Mulla Omar, in an Eid address Monday, defended his edict and said the destruction of "false idols" was a matter of pride for Afghans.


Updated: 8-3-2001

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