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The BBC's Suzannah Price
"Taleban has managed once again to turn the world's spotlight on its controversial administration"
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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

Saturday, 3 March, 2001, 15:35 GMT
Pressure on Taleban urged
Bamiyan Buddha
Bamiyan's Buddha is an "insult" to the purist Taleban
A UN envoy has said Islamic countries hold the key to persuade the Taleban to reverse a decision to destroy Buddhist artefacts.

Pierre Lafrance says he has received conflicting reports on whether the Taleban have begun the demolition of two historic Buddhist statues in Afghanistan.

We have the intention to spare no statues

Taleban information minister
Earlier, the Taleban said it had demolished major collections of statues and was in the process of breaking apart the ancient Buddha statues in Bamiyan.

The move has been strongly criticised by the international community, including Pakistan - one of only three countries to recognise the Taleban.

The Taleban's Information and Culture Minister, Qudratullah Jamal, said dozens of wooden and clay statues had been destroyed at several historic sites.

''They were easy to break apart and did not take much time,'' he said of the statues in Herat, Ghazni, Kabul and Jalalabad.

A Buddha
Afghanistan has priceless Buddha statues
Mr Jamal said the Taleban had also been removing parts of the world's two largest Buddhas, carved out of cliff in Bamiyan.

''We have the intention to spare no statues,'' he declared. ''Work is going on now on the destruction of Bamiyan's statutes and I don't know how much of it is done so far.''

Islamic world

Mr Lafrance, a special envoy from the UN cultural organisation Unesco is to travel to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Sunday, for a meeting with Taleban leaders there.

He also plans to visit Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - the two other countries along with Pakistan to recognise the Taleban rulers.

Mr Lafrance said he thought the Islamic countries held the key to stopping the destruction by exerting their moral authority.

Buddha carved into rock face
The destruction of the statues has prompted international concern
The UN has warned Afghanistan's rulers of extremely serious consequences if they carry out their threat to destroy the statues.

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

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

The reports are 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.

Unique statues

New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art has offered to buy the statues rather than see them destroyed.

Banned by Taleban
TV, music, cinema
Male-female mixing outside families
Taleban require
Women stay at home
Unshaved beards

The Association of Art Museum Directors, which represents 175 museums in the United States, Canada and Mexico, said it would ''stand by any effort'' to retrieve the art.

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.

International alarm

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.

The Taleban move has been denounced by Buddhist countries such Sri Lanka and Thailand as well as by Nepal, home to the Buddha's birthplace.

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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:

03 Mar 01 | Media reports
Chechen rebel backs Taleban campaign
02 Mar 01 | South Asia
Bamiyan: Wonder of the ancient world
02 Mar 01 | Europe
Battle to save world treasures
02 Mar 01 | South Asia
UN warns Taleban over Buddha statues
02 Mar 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Taleban isolation deepens
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Afghanistan: 20 years of bloodshed
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