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"The Taleban may just be enjoying a rare opportunity to be courted and cajoled by international leaders"
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Saturday, 10 March, 2001, 18:05 GMT
Ancient Buddhas '80% destroyed'
Buddhists protest in India
The Taleban's policy has provoked international outrage
Afghanistan's ruling Taleban, brushing aside international criticism, say they have destroyed 80% of two giant ancient Buddhist statues in the centre of the country.

Spokesman Abdul-Hoai Mutma'in said the Taleban hoped to complete the destruction soon.

Buddha statue
The statues are among Asia's great archaeological treasures
It is still impossible to know the current state of the Buddhas at Bamiyan province because the Muslim fundamentalist Taleban have sealed the area off.

But the statement fits in with reports from the Afghan opposition and local people that Taleban demolition plans are well underway.

Dynamite was reported to be on its way to the area on Friday, following earlier reported assaults using tank and artillery fire.

In recent days, delegations from Japan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have all pleaded with the Taleban to halt their plans.

No turning back

Pakistan, the Taleban's main ally, sent its interior minister Moinuddin Haider to Kabul on Saturday to plead for the treasures to be saved.

But the authorities told him that the issue was an "internal and religious" matter.

Nothing so far has made any dent in the Taleban's belief that the destruction is divinely ordered.

On Friday, the Taleban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil rejected a Japanese offer to move the statues in exchange for economic aid.

The UN General Assembly has condemned the movement, as have many Afghans in exile, who say the Buddhas are a cherished national symbol.

Egypt and the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan are due to make new appeals.

UN sanctions

Mr Muttawakil has said he will meet Mr Annan in Pakistan on Sunday and will tell him that the Taleban will not reverse their decision to destroy the statues.

The order to smash the statues was issued a month after the UN imposed new sanctions against the Taleban, aimed mainly to force them to hand over Saudi militant Osama bin Laden, who is accused of blowing up two US embassies.

But Mr Muttawakil ruled out speculation the Taleban was destroying statues valued by the rest of the world in revenge for its international isolation.

"There is no link between this or any political issue," he said.

"It is our internal issue and has no political justification."

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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:

09 Mar 01 | South Asia
UN condemns Taleban on statues
09 Mar 01 | South Asia
Taleban's struggle over statues
06 Mar 01 | South Asia
Little hope for Afghan statues
02 Mar 01 | South Asia
Bamiyan: Wonder of the ancient world
05 Mar 01 | Media reports
Bamiyan statues: World reaction
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
10 Mar 01 | South Asia
Icon smashing - the precedents
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