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The BBC's Bridget Kendall
"The demolition may have started already"
 real 56k

The UN Afghanistan envoy, Francesc Vendrell
"I received no assurances the edict would not be carried out"
 real 28k

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge
"There is little doubt that there is also very much a political character to this decision"
 real 28k

The BBC's Jim Fish
"The Taleban's puritanism pays scant regard to outside intervention"
 real 56k

Friday, 2 March, 2001, 22:47 GMT
UN warns Taleban over Buddha statues
Bamiyan Buddha
Bamiyan's Buddha is an "insult" to the purist Taleban
The United Nations has warned Afghanistan's Taleban rulers of extremely serious consequences if they carry out their threat to destroy the country's ancient Buddhist statues.

UN special envoy to Afghanistan Francesc Vendrell, who has just returned from Kabul, says he spoke at length with Taleban officials but received no assurances that the edict would not be carried out.

They have started attacking the Buddhas with guns and tank shells - with whatever arms they are carrying.

Militia source
The Taleban have reportedly already begun the demolition of two rock-hewn statues of Buddha - the largest of their kind in the world.

Official and opposition sources, quoted by the French news agency AFP, said Taleban fighters had launched an attack on the Buddhas with rockets, tank shells and even automatic rifles.

The report is unconfirmed - journalists have not been allow to visit the area - but it follows a Taleban announcement earlier in the week that all graven images in the country would be destroyed.

I think it would be a shocking thing to do

Francesc Vendrell, UN envoy
Mr Vendrell said he hoped the report was not true.

"If it is true the international reaction is going to be extremely negative," he said. "I think it would be a shocking thing to do."

The world-famous statues at Bamiyan are unique, the taller of the pair standing at 53 metres (125 feet) high.

They date back to between the second and fifth centuries AD, before the coming of Islam, when Afghanistan was a centre of Buddhist learning and pilgrimage.

Earlier it was reported that explosives had been brought to the Bamiyan site to blow up the statues, but the latest reports say impatient fighters have taken the matter into their own hands.

"People are firing at them out of their own sentiments," a militia source was quoted as saying.

On Thursday, the movement said it had started to destroy all the statues in the national museum in the capital, Kabul, as well as in museums in Ghazni, Herat and Farm Hadda, near Jalalabad.

International alarm

The Taleban - a hard-line Muslim movement - has dismissed international pressure to save the statues, declaring them "idols" which are "insulting to Islam".

Bamiyan Buddha statue with man for scale
At Buddha's feet: A guide (bottom left) shows the statues' huge scale
The UN representative says he proposed to the Taleban that an international group of Islamic scholars look into the matter, or that threatened objects be shipped out of Afghanistan.

India has called the destruction of the artefacts a "regression into mediaeval barbarism" and has offered to arrange the transfer of all artefacts for the benefit of mankind, while stressing they remain the treasures of the Afghan people.

Banned by Taleban
TV, music, cinema
Male-female mixing outside families
Taleban require
Women stay at home
Unshaved beards
"Pakistan attaches great importance to and supports the preservation of the world's historical, cultural and religious heritage," the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Buddhist countries such as Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand have also denounced the Taleban's move.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has offered to buy statues rather than see them destroyed.

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.

Meanwhile, the movement's representative in Pakistan, Salem Zaeef, denied reports that the destruction of Buddhist statues had begun at all.

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Can outside pressure have any effect on Afghanistan's isolationist Taleban movement?Buddha attack
Can the Taleban be swayed by outside pressure?
See also:

02 Mar 01 | South Asia
Bamiyan: Wonder of the ancient world
02 Mar 01 | Europe
Battle to save world treasures
26 Feb 01 | South Asia
Afghan statues face destruction
02 Mar 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Taleban isolation deepens
12 Feb 01 | South Asia
Taleban 'destroy' priceless art
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Afghanistan: 20 years of bloodshed
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