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The BBC's Jill McGivering
"It is still uncertain how much of the country's pre-Islamic past has been destroyed"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 09:45 GMT
Little hope for Afghan statues
Bamiyan Buddha
Bamiyan Buddhas: An "insult" to the Taleban
There is now little hope of saving Afghanistan's priceless heritage of pre-Islamic artefacts, the United Nations says.

A special envoy from the United Nations cultural body, Unesco, said the ruling Taleban seem intent on carrying out a promised threat to destroy thousands of artefacts.

We will destroy all statues, including the Buddhas, and no other proposal is under consideration in this regard

Taleban envoy to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef
The envoy, Pierre LaFrance, made yet another appeal to the hardline militia during emergency talks in Afghanistan.

But, as international condemnation grows, the fate of two priceless giant statues of the Buddha in the central town of Bamiyan remains unclear.

No compromise

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press quoted Kabul's envoy to Islamabad as saying the militia had ruled out any compromise on the issue.

"We will destroy all statues, including the Buddhas, and no other proposal is under consideration in this regard," AIP quoted Abdul Salam Zaeef as saying.

A Buddha
Hopes are now fading fast that priceless treasures can be saved
But it is still uncertain how much of the country's pre-Islamic heritage has been destroyed.

Mr LaFrance said he too had received conflicting reports when he was in Afghanistan.

He said some sources, which he described as "very reliable", had told him the massive Bamiyan statues were still untouched.

But others said demolition of the two Buddhas - which date back nearly 2,000 years - was well under way.

'A matter of pride'

On Monday, the Taleban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, defended the decision, describing the destruction as "a matter of pride".

He called on Afghan Muslims to withstand outside pressure.

Buddha carved into rock face
It is still unclear whether the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas has begun
Taleban leaders insist the issue is a religious one which does not concern the international community.

But many countries worldwide, including the Taleban's allies, have reacted with shock and outrage to the prospect of losing the rich cultural legacy of Afghanistan's pre-Islamic past.

Mr LaFrance said he plans to return to Afghanistan for further meetings later this week, after the Islamic festival of Eid.

Access to the site in Bamiyan, which is home to two Buddhas towering 53m (175 feet) and 36.5m (120 feet) and carved into sandstone cliffs, has been denied.

Mr LaFrance has already held talks with Taleban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad in the Afghan city of Kandahar.

A number of countries as well as cultural and religious organisations have offered to either buy or save the statues, which the Taleban denounce as idols.

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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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