Pakistan and Japan plead for Afghan statues
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Taleban officials in Afghanistan have told CNN they have destroyed the head and feet of the taller of the two ancient Bamiyan Buddha statues located in Central Afghanistan.
Wire reports, however, quoted Mohammad Ashraf Nadeem, a spokesman for the opposition led by commander Ahmad Shah Masood, as saying: "The Taleban dynamited both of the statues and they are completely gone."
Influential Pakistan said on Friday it would send a high-level delegation to Afghanistan on Saturday to urge the Taleban rulers to halt the destruction of the country's historic statues.
Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider will lead the delegation that will meet Taleban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar and other leaders of the radical Islamic movement in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, a foreign ministry statement said.
"The minister will impress upon the Afghan authorities not to implement their decision in view of the spirit of tolerance enjoined . . . by Islam and also in response to the international sentiments," it said.
The fate of the two Buddha statues, carved into cliffs above the central town of Bamiyan, remained unclear amid mixed reports from various agencies and sources.
Japan makes bid
Members of the Japanese parliament had urged the Taleban rulers of Afghanistan Friday not to destroy statues.
Taleban Foreign Minister Mulla Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil said Japan would be a good country to receive the statutes if the Taleban leadership decided to send them out of Afghanistan.
He did not indicate that option was under active consideration, nor did he comment on reports that the destruction of two 1,500-year-old Buddhas was continuing.
Japan has been providing the Taleban government with economic aid, but has threatened to cut all assistance if the destruction goes ahead.
The Taleban have so far rejected all pleas for them not to carry out a directive from their leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, to destroy the statues -- including two giant 1,500-year-old Buddhas carved into sandstone cliffs.
Mullah Omar has ordered the statues destroyed, saying they are idols are an affront to Islam.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickeremanayaka is also on his way to the area to join the Japanese group in lobbying the Taleban to change their minds.
He said he would seek "joint action on the issue," to echo growing international outrage against the Taleban decree.
United Nations special envoy Pierre Lafrance earlier said he would again appeal to the Taleban when Eid al-Adha is over.
All international appeals have so far fallen on deaf ears.
No turning back
The Taleban foreign minister have told agencies: "We have explained our position to the UNESCO team and will mention this to others . . . [T]hat is our decree is based on Islamic orders and that we will spare no pre-Islamic or post-Islamic era statues.
"They may involve themselves because of personal interests, but they have no religious basis to say that our work is contrary to Islamic laws," he added.
Previous proposals to save the statues have all been rejected, including offers by India, Greece, and the metropolitan Museum of New York to purchase them.
A London-based Afghan engineer also offered to build walls around the Bamiyan statues which the Taleban considered an offensive sight.
"We have all sorts of possibilities to maintain them or to keep them out of sight," Muttawakil said, dismissing the ideas. "Our verdict wants their annihilation."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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