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The BBC's Mike Woolridge
"Nepal called the destruction order reprehensible"
 real 28k

Vishvarparnee of the Western Buddhist Order
"Those statues represent a memory of a vanished civilisation"
 real 28k

Sayad Rah-Matullah Hasimi, Taleban ambassador
"We are very surprised as to why the world is so concerned with two Buddhas"
 real 28k

Unesco Afghan expert Michael Barry
"The entire archaeological legacy of a country is being destroyed"
 real 28k

Friday, 2 March, 2001, 00:37 GMT
Fury over Taleban statue purge
Bamiyan Buddha
Bamiyan's tall Buddha angers the Taleban
The international community has reacted with outrage to the news that Afghanistan's ruling Taleban movement has begun destroying the country's statues.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, Unesco, denounced what it calls acts of vandalism, and called on Muslim nations to try to put an end to the destruction.

By perpetrating these acts of vandalism the Taleban are furthering the cause neither of Afghanistan nor Islam

Unesco head Koichiro Matsuura
But the international outcry was dismissed and reports from Kabul describe the hard-line Islamists using tanks and rocket launchers in their quest to rid Afghanistan of the images which they consider blasphemous.

The statues under threat after the order by Taleban supreme commander Mullah Mohammed Omar include two giant Buddhas carved into the mountainside at Bamiyan which have religious, historic and artistic significance.

It is not known whether these ancient statues have already been attacked.

Islamic help

Unesco head Koichiro Matsuura, said: "By perpetrating these acts of vandalism the Taleban are furthering the cause neither of Afghanistan nor Islam."

Buddha carved into rock face
The destruction of the statues has prompted international concern

He urged other Islamic nations to work together to find a solution, and said representatives from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Iran had already backed his call.

"They have all expressed their unconditional support and have pledged to do all that they can do to put a stop to these destructions," said Mr Matsuura.

The French Foreign Ministry warned the Taleban that the destruction of Afghanistan's cultural past would further isolate it in the international community.

A Taleban spokesman in the United States, Sayed Rahmatullah Hashmi, told the BBC the statues were being destroyed to retaliate for the 1992 demolition of the ancient mosque at Ayodhya in India by Hindu activists.

There has been no confirmation of this from inside Afghanistan.

'Insulting statues'

"The implementation of Mullah Omar's order to destroy statues began this morning," said Qadratullah Jamal, the Taleban's information minister.

All we are breaking are stones

Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar
"The destruction work began in Kabul, Jalalabad, Herat, Kandahar, Ghazni and Bamiyan.

"The destruction work will be done by any means available to them," he added.

Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar gave the order on Monday, declaring the statues were insulting to Islam and should be destroyed.

The ultra-conservative Taleban believe depiction of any human figure is blasphemous.

"All we are breaking are stones," Mullah Omar was quoted as saying by the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press.

"According to Islam, I don't worry about anything. My job is the implementation of Islamic order," he said.


Afghanistan was a Buddhist centre before the arrival of Islam in the Ninth Century.

But some mullahs believe, mistakenly, that Buddhists worship the Buddha and that the statues are therefore idols.

The country's museums contain numerous Buddhas and other figures of priceless historical value.

A Buddha
Kabul museum contains priceless Buddha statues
There are also a number of Hindu shrines in Bakhtiar province.

"It is a great loss, a tragedy for the Afghan people and for the world," said Italy's ambassador to Pakistan, Angelo Gabriele de Ceglie.

Mr de Ceglie was in Kabul representing an Italian-funded organisation dedicated to preserving what is left of Afghanistan's rich past.

The head of one of the two Bamiyan Buddhas was blown off during the Taleban's capture of the city in 1998.

The other statue, at 53 metres high, is the world's tallest standing Buddha.

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See also:

02 Mar 01 | Europe
Battle to save world treasures
26 Feb 01 | South Asia
Afghan statues face destruction
12 Feb 01 | South Asia
Taleban 'destroy' priceless art
17 Aug 00 | South Asia
Afghans display ancient stone
07 Jan 98 | World
Historic monuments under attack
20 Jan 98 | From Our Own Correspondent
The giant Buddhas of Bamiyan
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Afghanistan: 20 years of bloodshed
02 Mar 01 | Europe
Charges over Dubrovnik bombing
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