PDD on 2 Mar 2001 22:56:01 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Afghanistan's Taliban turned to explosives to destroy two giant Buddhas


KABUL (Reuters) - Defying international condemnation, Afghanistan's ruling Taliban turned to artillery and explosives Friday to destroy two giant rock-hewn Buddhas they decry as un-Islamic.

Taliban sources in Kabul said mortars and cannon were being used to destroy the Buddha statues in Bamiyan in central Afghanistan, defying protests and diplomatic pressure.

A day after the Taliban announced they had begun destroying all statues in the more than 90 percent of Afghanistan they control, a Pakistan-based Afghan news service said explosives were being assembled to blow up the two monuments.

``They are using any weapon they have got at the Buddhas,'' said a Taliban official in Kabul who asked not to be identified. ''Explosives, such as gunpowder, have also been placed beneath the statues for more effective action.''

Taliban leader Mullah Mohamad Omar has ruled that all statues in Afghanistan should be destroyed because they are un-Islamic. The Taliban compares keeping statues with idol worship disallowed by Islam.

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 later spread through Asia.

The sandstone statues, carved at a caravan stop on the fabled Silk Road to China, are the best-known products of the fusion of European and Asian art that flourished in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan between the fourth and seventh centuries.

Friend and foe alike have reacted with horror.


The Paris-based U.N. cultural agency UNESCO sent an envoy to Afghanistan Friday to plead directly with the Taliban leadership to halt their destruction of the country's priceless statues.

UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura said he had sent Pierre Lafrance, a former French ambassador to Pakistan, to Kabul for urgent talks. Matsuura said in a statement he hoped the talks would ``reverse this absurd action that the authorities in Kabul are engaged in.''

Through some unexplained error, the statues however were never listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites deserving special protection.

India termed the envisaged destruction ``a regression into medieval barbarism'' and offered to look after the artifacts for all mankind.

Muslim Iran, which has tense relations with Kabul, said the monuments were part of the ``country's cultural and national heritage and belong to the history of the region's civilization in which all humanity has a share.''

Neighboring Muslim Pakistan, one of only three countries along with Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to recognize the Taliban government, and Buddhist Sri Lanka made fresh moves to dissuade the radical Islamic movement from its plan.

The head of the U.N. special mission to Afghanistan, Assistant Secretary General Francesc Vendrell, said he had warned Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil of world wrath at the destruction in a three-hour meeting in Kabul on Thursday.


Vendrell said he had suggested the statues the Taliban find so offensive -- they have said they could become objects of worship -- be moved outside the country, and had relayed an offer from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to buy the treasures rather than see them smashed.