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Afghani Taleban Plans to Destroy Centuries-Old Buddhas

Aired March 2, 2001 - 1:37 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The United Nations is sending a special envoy to Afghanistan in hopes of saving that country's statues. Afghanistan's Taleban rulers, known for their radical religious views, say statues are false idols and they've declared that every statue in the country must be destroyed. The order includes two huge representations of Buddha carved into the side of a mountain as early as the third century.

Journalist Kamal Hyder is in Afghanistan; he joins us now on the line.

Kamala, give us a better understanding about the Taleban and what this is all about.

KAMAL HYDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Taleban have lately been facing a lot of sanctions because of what is conceived as a radical Islam but, actually, Afghanistan has gone through a lot of wars. And for the last 22, 23 years, this country has been -- has seen nothing but war. So the Taleban particularly are trying, you know, to restore some order, and they are perceived by many to be quite radical. The thing is that the Taleban somehow feel that the international community has shunned them -- that they have been ostracized; and they feel that certain acts that they do are particularly to tell the world that if the world doesn't care about Afghanistan, then the Afghans don't care about the world -- Lou.

WATERS: How would the destruction of these ancient artifacts help the Taleban restore order, or is this just an attempt to gain attention?

HYDER: Well, I think, basically, the edict came from the supreme leader, who is Mullah Omar, leading Afghanistan these days. And particularly when the edict comes from the ruling (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as he is called, which literally means, "the leader of the faithful," people and especially the government officials adhere to the edict.

Of course, internationally, this is causing quite a furor because these Buddha sites are geological relics, as you mentioned yourself. A colossal -- you can imagine that the larger Buddha is 180 feet tall and the smaller Buddha is 120 feet tall, built into the side of the cliff. And these are great archaeological sites that the world is concerned about. But, obviously, the leadership here feels and the people feel that if the edict has come from the top they have no other choice but to adhere to it -- Lou. WATERS: All right, there's one to watch; Kamal Hyder in Afghanistan.

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