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Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 15:50 GMT
UN condemns statue destruction
Buddhist monks demonstrate in Calcutta
Monks in Calcutta join worldwide protest
The UN Security Council has added its voice to worldwide condemnation of the decision by the ruling Taleban in Afghanistan to destroy two giant statues of the Buddha as well as other pre-Islamic relics.

Head of Buddha from Kabul museum
The Taleban want all pre-Islamic relics destroyed
In a statement, the council urged the Taleban to stop the "incomprehensible and wanton acts of violence on the cultural heritage of Afghanistan".

The treasures being destroyed formed "part of the world's cultural treasure," the UN statement said.

The Taleban have so far refused to heed calls to stop the destruction, although reports from Afghanistan suggest work to demolish them may have halted temporarily.

Ukrainian ambassador Volodymyr Yel'chenko, who is the acting president of the Security Council, told journalists that the latest information he had was that preparation for the destruction had started - but the actual demolition had not yet taken place.

He said the UN was continuing its efforts to prevent it going ahead.

Unesco bid

Special envoy Pierre LaFrance of the UN's cultural body Unesco said on Wednesday he would return to Afghanistan this week in a second bid to save the treasures.

But he was not optimistic.

"I would not say that I feel hopeful but there is room for more attempts at calming down the situation," he told the AFP news agency.

A Reuters report from Kabul on Tuesday said that the Taleban had stopped shelling the priceless statues in the central town of Bamiyan for the duration of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

It quoted the Taleban ambassador to neighbouring Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, as saying that so far, 25% of the statues had been demolished.

He also suggested that a message from Islamic scholars in the Arab world might help resolve the situation.

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has reportedly agreed to a Unesco request that he ask the Taleban to halt the destruction.

Demonstrations

More than 500 Buddhists took to the streets in the Indian city of Calcutta to denounce the Taleban.

Protesters burned an effigy of Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, even calling on the UN to send soldiers to Afghanistan to save the statues.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell has described the plan to destroy the statues as a "crime against humankind."

Buddha carved into rock face
The Buddhas are regarded as unique
At a news conference in Washington, he said the Taleban decision was "horrible" and a "tragedy."

Powell said he did not have any information about the extent of the damage to the statues.

The Taleban have described the Buddhas as idolatrous and insulting to Islam.

The world-famous statues 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.

Sri Lanka offered on Wednesday to finance a possible international operation to save the statues.

India has already offered to take the priceless relics.

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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:

06 Mar 01 | South Asia
Little hope for Afghan statues
03 Mar 01 | South Asia
Pressure on Taleban urged
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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