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The BBC's Susannah Price
"UN envoy knows he faces uphill task"
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Sunday, 4 March, 2001, 17:22 GMT
UN 'fails' to save Afghan statues
Bamiyan Buddha
Bamiyan Buddhas: An "insult" to the Taleban
The ruling Taleban authorities in Afghanistan have rejected a plea from the United Nations for them to stop destroying the country's Buddhist statues.

The Taleban Foreign Minister, Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, indicated no change in the decision to destroy the statues. He was speaking after talks with a United Nations special envoy, Pierre LaFrance, in the Afghan city of Kandahar.

We cannot keep statues that are incompatible with our beliefs

Taleban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil
The Pakistan-based news agency, the Afghan Islamic Press, quoted Mr Mutawakil as saying he would convey the international community's concerns to the Taleban supreme leader, Mullah Omar. But he described the issue of the statues as an internal matter which the world would eventually understand.

The envoy, from the UN cultural agency, Unesco, hopes to meet Mullah Omar, who issued the order for the destruction of the statues last Monday.

One priority is the fate of the two colossal Buddhas in central Bamiyan province, which date back nearly 2000 years.

There are conflicting reports as to whether demolition work has begun on them.

One report from the area said there had been no significant damage yet - and this was reiterated by the Taleban representative in Islamabad.

However the Taleban Information Minister, Mawlawi Qudratullah Jamal, said the destruction was well under way.

Blow to mankind

The Taleban have refused to yield to appeals from China, Iran, Pakistan and other countries for the statues to be spared.

On Sunday, Mr Mutawakil rejected Iran's offer to buy the statues.

"We do preserve our ancient heritage, but we cannot keep statues that are incompatible with our beliefs," the minister said.

Taleban Minister of Information Mawlawi Qudratullah Jamal
Taleban Minister of Information said destruction had begun
"One Muslim should not give another Muslim what he does not want to have," Afghan Islamic Press quoted him as saying.

A BBC correspondent in Islamabad, Susannah Price, says it would be a massive operation to bring down these two giant Buddhas. They have already been damaged - both accidentally during fighting and deliberately by the Taleban and earlier rulers.

The tallest statue, at more than 50 metres high, is the largest standing Buddha in the world.

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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 | South Asia
Pressure on Taleban urged
03 Mar 01 | Media reports
Chechen rebel backs Taleban campaign
02 Mar 01 | Europe
Battle to save world treasures
02 Mar 01 | South Asia
UN warns Taleban over Buddha statues
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Afghanistan: 20 years of bloodshed
05 Mar 01 | Media reports
Bamiyan statues: World reaction
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