- Taliban demolish ancient statues
- Linda Fasulo and Emad Mekay
KABUL, Afghanistan, March 4 Taliban soldiers blasted two
towering ancient statues of Buddha with anti-aircraft weapons, according to the first
witness account from the area on Sunday. Other statues throughout the country were being
demolished with rockets, tanks and explosives, ridding the nation of reminders of its
A RESIDENT OF CENTRAL BAMIYAN said Taliban soldiers began attacking the
relics at least three days earlier. The area is where the two ancient statues of Buddha
were hewn from a cliff face in the third and fifth centuries.
"I could see the Taliban soldiers firing anti-aircraft weapons at the two statues.
That was three days ago," said Safdar Ali, who arrived Sunday in the Afghan capital
of Kabul from Bamiyan, about 80 miles away.
"The soldiers wouldnt let us get too close so I couldnt see how much was
damaged. We just left the area," he said.
The Taliban have ignored pleas from an outraged world to stop the destruction of the
ancient statues, even snubbing an offer from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to
take the works and preserve them.
"We are not against culture, but we dont believe in these things. They are
against Islam," the Talibans Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil told The
Associated Press in a telephone interview from southern Kandahar the headquarters
of the Taliban.
Destroying the Afghan past
Muttawakil was to meet later Sunday with Pierre Lafrance, a special UNESCO envoy sent from
Paris to try to negotiate with the Taliban and register the worlds outrage at the
"I will explain our point of view and our internal situation," Muttawakil said
TASK SEEN FINISHED MONDAY
On Saturday, Quatradullah Jamal, the Talibans Information and Culture Minister,
told the AP that troops had destroyed two-thirds of all the statues in Afghanistan as well
as large parts of the two giant statues of Buddha. Muttawakil confirmed that.
By Monday exactly one week after the Talibans reclusive leader, Mullah
Mohammed Omar, ordered all statues destroyed the task will be complete, Jamal said.
The Taliban religious militia, which rules 95 percent of Afghanistan, including Kabul,
adheres to a strict brand of Islamic law. Their interpretation has been questioned by
Islamic scholars in other Muslim countries and Islamic institutions.
The two Buddhas, 175 and 120 feet tall, were damaged in fighting and defaced by Russian
soldiers who carved their names in the statues following the Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan, which began in 1979, witnesses said.
One of the statues is thought to be the worlds tallest of a Buddha standing rather
The destruction of statues began after Omar ruled that they were idolatrous and against
the tenets of Islam. Others argue that Islam does not ban images, only the worship of
Muttawakil rejected offers from several countries and the New York museum to take the
"Why should we give them to anyone? They are against our beliefs. We have museums
here and we will keep our cultural and historical artifacts there," he said.
The Taliban have been unmoved by international appeals to save the
statues even those from fellow Muslim nations, including their closest ally,
Expressions of shock and dismay tumbled in over the weekend, from China, Japan and Greece
to the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization and the environment
ministers from the worlds seven most industrialized countries plus Russia meeting in
The Taliban has raised overseas wrath when the country is facing an increasing
humanitarian crisis and is in dire need of aid.
Hundreds of thousands of Afghans are fleeing homes because of the prolonged conflict and
the worst drought in more than three decades. The United Nations has reported in recent
weeks that hundreds have died owing to cold and hunger.
A statement by a U.N. coordinators office in Islamabad said the Afghan humanitarian
situation was "in a sharp downwards spiral that will continue until at least next
NBCs Linda Fasulo at the United Nations and Emad Mekay in Cairo, The Associated
Press and Reuters contributed to this report.