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Explosives shatter large parts of Buddha statues: Opposition

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March 10, 2001 

  

ISLAMABAD, MAR 9 (AP) - Powerful explosives shattered large parts of two towering stone statues of Buddha, hewn from the cliff side in central Bamiyan province, opposition forces in the area said Friday.


"The Taliban started destroying the statues in the afternoon yesterday (Thursday) with explosives and cannons," said Ahmed Bahram, who spoke to The Associated Press from opposition positions in Bamiyan.


The Taliban, who rule roughly 95 percent of the country are waging a bitter battle with troops, led by ousted president Burhanuddin Rabbani, for territory in parts of northern and central Afghanistan, including Bamiyan.


However, Bahram said it was impossible to know the extent of the damage because opposition soldiers are several kilometers (miles) away from the provincial capital, also named Bamiyan, where the statues are located.


"Over the last three or four days the Taliban have been bringing in large amounts of explosives and yesterday they started blowing up the statues," he said.


The Taliban were not immediately available for comment and have refused to allow anyone to go to Bamiyan to verify conflicting claims about the extent of the damage to the 3rd and 5th century carvings.


On Thursday the Taliban's Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil told The AP that the demolition of the statues, briefly interrupted while troops celebrated a three-day Muslim holiday, would resume on Thursday.


International appeals to save the statues will fail.


"Our edict will be implemented. It's not reversible," Muttawakil said from the southern city of Kandahar, headquarters of the hard-line Islamic militia that rules 95 percent of the country.


The Taliban's closest ally, Pakistan, will send its Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider to Kandahar on Saturday to try to dissuade the Taliban from destroying the statues.


It's understood that Haider will be accompanied by several Pakistani clerics, as well as the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef.


"The minister will impress upon the Afghan authorities not to implement their decision, in view of the spirit of tolerance enjoined upon by Islam and also in response to the international sentiments," said a Pakistan foreign ministry statement.


On Friday a delegation of Japanese diplomats were in Kandahar to meet with Taliban officials to plead for the preservation of the statues.


A special UNESCO envoy, Pierre Lafrance, who met earlier with the Taliban said he hoped to return to Afghanistan on Saturday to make fresh efforts to save the war-ruined nation's pre-Islamic past


Lafrance acknowledged that the international community has no leverage and said the only hope of overturning the Taliban's order lies with Islamic clerics.


"The Islamic community has expressed its dismay at such a strange interpretation of their religion," he said. "Their Islamic scholars might be of some help and could provide some food for thought to the Taliban."


If not, Lafrance warned that the destruction of the statues could "open the door for religious fanaticism from all sides and encourage sectarian violence."


The controversy began almost two weeks ago when the Taliban's supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar ordered all statues in Afghanistan demolished, including the precious giant stone carvings in Bamiyan.


The taller of the two statues, measuring 170 feet (51 meters), is believed to be the world's tallest standing Buddha. The smaller one, which stands 120 feet (36 meters), is believed by people in Bamiyan to be female, although no body parts are visible.


Omar declared the statues idolatrous and against Islam.


Since then Islamic nations have disputed his interpretation of Islam and pleaded for the safeguard of the statues. He has refused, saying their opposition is political to appease Western sentiments.



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