Taleban 'suspend' blasting of statues
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan's ruling Taleban militia have suspended the demolition of two 1,500 year old Buddhist statues while the country observes the ongoing Muslim holiday, reports from the region say.
According to the Reuters news agency witnesses who have seen the statues say the demolition work "has been called off temporarily" during celebration of the Eid ul-Adha festival.
The news come as a senior Taleban envoy was quoted as ruling out any compromise on the destruction of the two unique statues -- an act which has sparked outcry from governments and religious groups around the world.
"We will destroy all statues, including the Buddhas, and no other proposal is under consideration in this regard," Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taleban's envoy to Pakistan was quoted as saying by the Islamabad-based Afghan Islamic Press.
Pakistan, one of only three nations with diplomatic ties with Afghanistan, has itself called on the Taleban to reverse its plan.
Other governments, including the United States, have urged Islamabad to use what leverage it can bring to bear on the Taleban to halt the destruction.
In his first public comments since the Taleban announced it would begin the systematic destruction of all statues in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday he deplored the action.
"It's horrible, it's a tragedy. It's a crime against human kind. I deplore it," said Powell.
Last week Taleban leader Mohammad Omar ordered the destruction of all statues in Afghanistan, including the two enormous Buddhas in Bamian. One Buddha stands 175 feet and the other 120 feet. Both are carved into Bamian's sandstone cliffs.
Powell added that he didn't know the "extent of the damage at this time" or whether the two Buddhas have been destroyed.
Zaeef said destruction of the statues began Saturday and would continue until no trace of the images remained.
'One quarter destroyed'
Unconfirmed reports Tuesday quoted Taleban sources as saying the two statues have already been one quarter destroyed by forces using tanks shells, rocket-propelled grenades and dynamite.
The two giant statues of the Buddha are carved into the cliff-face above the town of Bamiyan in central Afghanistan and are regarded as some of the finest examples of early Central Asian art.
One of the statues is the world's tallest standing image of the Buddha.
The U.N.'s cultural and heritage body UNESCO has described the Bamiyan statues as a unique cultural treasure and called their destruction "cultural vandalism".
'Affront to Islam'
Last week the Taleban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar issued a religious edict, or fatwah, calling for all statues in Afghanistan to be destroyed.
He said dozens of ancient Buddhist images across the country, including the giant stone statues in Bamiyan, were an affront to Islam and should be destroyed.
The Taleban want to establish the world's purest Islamic state and have already issued a series of strict rules governing the way Afghans must live their lives.
Earlier Tuesday the group's Foreign Minister, Maulvi Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil, told CNN Afghanistan would not cave in to pleas that the statues be sold to the international community.
"We are determined to preserve our heritage," said foreign minister Muttawakil. "But we don't want to protect one thing, and that is statues. That doesn't mean they should be given to others."
Meanwhile international condemnation of the Taleban's actions continues to grow and observers say the action is likely to do little to aid the Taleban's quest for international recognition as Afghanistan's rightful rulers.
In Germany, Culture Minister Julian Nida-Ruemelin compared the smashing of the statues to the Nazi book burning.
"This is about a piece of global cultural heritage which the rest of the world cannot be indifferent to," he said.
A Kashmiri separatist group, based in Pakistan, is one of the few groups to have expressed support for the Taleban's actions.
The United Nations special envoy Pierre Lafrance has said he will try to persuade Taleban leaders to lay off their plans, as soon as the Eid ul-Adha ends at the weekend.
He said dozens of smaller, yet still irreplaceable, statues housed in museums across Afghanistan had already been destroyed.
Afghanistan was a center of Buddhist culture before Islam arrived some 1,200 years ago.
Analysis: Buddha's fate signals Taleban divisions
Society for the Preservation of Aghanistan's Cultural Heritage
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