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Taliban go ahead and blast
Buddha's statues

(Kabul, March 1)


[Vietnamese version]

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Heritage Killer: This undated picture shows an Afghan military truck parked under the shadow of a huge Buddha statue in the central province of Bamiyan. Afghanistan, a famous Buddhist center before Islamic conquerors invaded the country around 1,400 years ago, is famous for its two massive and ancient Buddha statues.

DISREGARDING INTERNATIONAL outcry over its decision to destroy the ancient Bamiyan Buddha statues and other heritage artefacts, Afghanistan's Taliban regime on Thursday began destroying the statues in various cities by using cannons and battle tanks to blast them.

Taliban Minister of Information and Culture Qudratullah Jamal said militiamen started wrecking the almost 2,000-year-old Buddhist masterpieces in the central province of Bamiyan, including the world's tallest standing Buddha measuring 165 feet, after sunrise.

"We will use all means, including cannon and tanks, to destroy the statues," the Taliban Minister said.

India termed the destruction of the statues as an "absolute outrage". An MEA spokesman said in New Delhi that the "Taliban are persisting with their obscurantist and medieval programme in destroying valuable cultural, historical and archaeological artefacts."

An edict announced on Monday by the militia's supreme leader, Mulla Mohammad Omar, calling for the destruction of all statues in line with "Islamic" laws, has shocked the world.

Appeals for their preservation have come from the US, France, Germany, Thailand, Japan, Sri Lanka, Iran, Pakistan, Germany, Russia, India and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Koichiro Matsuura, chief of Unesco, said he had convened an emergency meeting of members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

"They are destroying statues that the entire world considers to be masterpieces," Matsuura said.

Afghan Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil said the edict was irreversible. "Have you ever seen any decision of the Taliban reversed?" Mutawakil asked.



Afghanistan's famous Buddhas under death sentence

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The 53-meter (175-foot) tall, 2000-year-old Buddha statue located in Bamyan, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) west of the Afghan capital Kabul, is shown in this undated photo. Afghanistan's hardline Taliban rulers ordered the destruction, Monday, Feb. 26, 2001 of all statues as insulting Islam, including this world's tallest standing Buddha statue which was already damaged in fightings. (AP Photo)

KABUL, Feb 26 (AFP)

Some of the earliest examples of Buddhist art are under a sentence of death in Afghanistan after the ruling Islamic militia ordered their destruction Monday.

The Taliban militia, who have already fired mortars at two ancient Buddha statues in central Bamiyan province, have now decided to finish them off.

The massive Buddhas, carved into a sandstone cliff near the provincial capital Bamiyan, stand 50 meters (165 feet) and 34.5 meters tall and date back to the second century AD.

Before their faces were lost to the elements and Taliban vandalism, they wore the same serene smiles of the much later Buddhas in the far East, but their classical features and Hellenistic Greek robes represented their unique place not just in the history of Afghanistan, but of the world in general.

Previously protected by hordes of pilgrims and monks who lived in nearby caves, the statues are now only visited by children who climb all over them.

When they were built, Afghanistan was one of the most cosmopolitan regions in the world, a melting pot of merchants, travellers and artists from China and India, central Asia and the Roman Empire.

Now, under the Taliban, it is a place where few travellers dare to visit, where ethnic minorities live in fear of persecution or take up arms to defend themsleves, and where anything "un-Islamic" is forbidden or denied.

Bamiyan was still a Buddhist land in the mid-800s. Islam was not fully established there until the 11th century, but either way, the Taliban's zealous project of re-creating a Mohammadean world of pure-Islam now has no room for history.

They have banned photographs of living creatures, television and music. Men are forced to grow long beards like the Prophet, and women are barred from most work and official education.

The militia's supreme leader, Mulla Mohammad Omar, a veteran of the 1979-89 Soviet war and an Islamic student (Talib) who shuns most contact with the outside world, has now ordered all statues in Afghanistan to be destroyed.

His edict was broadcast on Taliban radio as a visiting group of Western diplomats visited Kabul to check reports of official vandalism of ancient relics in the national museum.

Mortars were fired at the small Buddha's groin in 1998 and a year later burning tyres were placed on the chin of the larger figure, causing a long smoke stain.

Now the silent guardians of Afghanistan's pre-Islamic history are again in the Taliban's sights.


Taliban to destroy world's tallest Buddha statue

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An undated photo of the world's tallest Bhuddha statue at Bamiyan in Afghanistan. (AP)

Afghanistan's hardline Taliban rulers, who revile images as against Islam, ordered the destruction Monday of all statues, including the world's tallest standing Buddha and a smaller one. The order came from the Taliban's supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar who issued an edict declaring statues, including the ancient Buddhas, as insulting to Islam. Afghanistan's ancient Buddhas are located in Bamiyan, about 150kms west of the Afghan capital of Kabul. The tallest Buddha, measuring 53 metres is the world's tallest standing Buddha. The smaller one stands 37 metres. The two statues, which have been damaged in fighting in the area, were carved out of the Afghan mountainside in the fifth century. It's not clear what prompted the latest Taliban edict.

The Taliban espouse a harsh brand of Islamic law that bans most forms of light entertainment, all photography, requires men to wear beards in keeping with the fashion of Islam's prophet Mohammed. The Taliban also require everyone to pray five times a day, as required in the Muslim holy book the Koran. Many of the Taliban's edicts are directed against women, who are required to wear the all-enveloping burqa, travel with a male relative. Women are not allowed to work and schools for girls beyond 8 years old is not allowed, although the Taliban say they will allow it when fighting ends.

The Taliban rule roughly 95 per cent of the country and the opposition, led by ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani, the remaining five percent. As well as the giant Buddhas, Afghanistan's museum contains a treasure-trove of Buddhist-era artifacts. Much of the museum was destroyed in the bitter fighting between rival Islamic factions, including Rabbanis, between 1992 and 1996 when the Taliban took control. Many of the artifacts were stolen and sold on the open market. Some have appeared in museums around the world. The tallest of the two giant Buddhas has already been damaged by zealous Taliban soldiers who fired rocket propelled grenades at it. There have been reports that the faces of the Buddhas have been disfigured. Faces are forbidden in Islam, according to the Taliban.


Taliban begins demolition, VHP vows retaliation

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An undated photo of the world's tallest Bhuddha statue at Bamiyan in Afghanistan. (AP)

KABUL/NEW DELHI: The ruling Taliban militia on Thursday began demolishing statues across Afganistan, disregarding international opinion. The move evoked a strong response in India, with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) threatening suitable "reaction" in Rajasthan's communally sensitive Ajmer.

In Kabul, Afghanistan Radio quoted Taliban information minister Qudratullah Jamal as saying the Taliban had started destroying statues in Kandahar, Bamiyan, Herat and Kabul Museum, following a fresh decree from its Chief Mullah Omar. ``We will use all means, including canons and tanks, to destroy the statues,'' he said. Jamal said the destruction of scores of pre-Islamic figures was designed to stop the worshipping of "false idols," throughout the country.

He said militiamen started wrecking the almost 2,000-year-old Buddhist masterpieces in the central province of Bamiyan, including the world's tallest standing Buddha measuring 50 metres, after sunrise. The Taliban soldiers were also at "work" in the Kabul museum and elsewhere in the provinces of Ghazni, Herat, Jalalabad and Kandahar.

The decree for the destruction of statues was issued after consultation with religious leaders and the Taliban Islamic Supreme Court, the Minister said. The orders for destruction have been issued ``because these statues have remained as a shrine of infidels and they are worshipping these statues still...God Almighty is the real shrine...all false shrines should be smashed,'' the decree said.

An edict announced Monday by the militia's supreme leader, Mulla Mohammad Omar, calling for the destruction of all statues in line with "Islamic" laws, has caused shock around the world.

The VHP on Thursday joined issues with the Taliban over the destruction of statues, including the Bamiyan buddhas and threatened a "reaction" in communally sensitive Ajmer town of Rajasthan if they do not stop "insulting" Rajput warrior Prithviraj Chauhan's memorial in Ghazni.

"The destruction of Bamiyan statues is an insult to Budhhism," VHP senior vice-president Acharya Giriraj Kishore told reporters here.

Alleging that the 'samadhi' of Hindu warrior Prithviraj Chauhan in Ghazni was being "insulted" by the Taliban regime, Kishore said, "people in his erstwhile capital of Ajmer are agitated over it and they may react if it does not stop."

Asked what was meant by "reaction", Bajrang Dal leader Surendra Jain said, "you never know how people react."

The dargah of famous Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer commands a massive following across the Indian sub-continent, including a large number of Hindus, and is cited as an example of communal harmony.

The two massive Bamiyan Buddhas, carved into a sandstone cliff near the provincial capital in central Afghanistan, stand 50 metres and 34.5 metres tall, respectively, and were built around the second century.

Appeals for their preservation have come from India, the US, France, Germany, Thailand, Japan, Sri Lanka, Iran and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

India on Thursday sent a former foreign secretary to a UNESCO-sponsored meeting in Paris to discuss the destruction of the Buddhist statues.

"The statues belonged to Buddhists all over the world and not to Afghanistan alone," said R P Perera, a UNESCO official based in New Delhi. "I am sure the meeting will take a grim view of the act," he said.

Koichiro Matsuura, chief of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), said their destruction would be a "real cultural disaster that will cause an irreparable harm to a heritage of exceptional universal value."

Germany, Russia, Thailand and a number of other countries expressed concern Thursday following the Taliban announcement that the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas had begun.

But Afghanistan's foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel said the edict was irreversible. "Have you ever seen any decision of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) reversed?" Mutawakel asked.

Afghans, baffled at first by the decree and now its implementation, quietly and sadly condemned the destruction.

"Destroyed cities can be rehabilitated. But once the statues are gone, they can never be replaced," said a resident of Kabul.

Taliban officials privately said they were not happy with Omar's decree, which is seen as absolute law in more than 90 per cent of the country under the militia's rule. (Agencies)


[Vietnamese version]

Update : 01-12-2001

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