Opposition: Taleban starting to wreck age-old Buddhas
NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- An Indian-based Afghan opposition leader said Friday that Afghanistan's ruling Taleban has started to destroy two centuries-old Buddhas, despite worldwide pleas to refrain.
"I have received numerous reports from Afghanistan throughout the day about the starting of Taleban demolishing the statues, but I cannot say categorically that they are already demolishing them or not," said Abdullah Abdullah, a spokesman for the opposition Northern Alliance of Afghanistan.
Abdullah said the reports have come from two different sources.
Cultural authorities worldwide have urged the Muslim fundamentalist Taleban militia, which controls most of the central Asian republic, to spare two immense, 2,000-year-old images of the Buddha carved into a rock face near the central town of Bamiyan. The Taleban considers the statues graven images "insulting to Islam."
Governments, religious associations, and heritage groups around the world have also called on the Taleban to preserve the unique Buddhist figures, which soar 38 meters (125 feet) and 53 meters (174 feet) above Bamiyan. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged the Taleban to rethink destruction of the statues.
But Taleban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar called Monday for all such statues to be smashed, and the report of their demolition comes despite a last-minute appeal from Pakistan, the Taleban's closest ally, to spare the statues.
Abdullah said Pakistan's call for restraint came too late.
"They made that threat three days ago, four days ago and there was no statement from Pakistan," he said.
"All statues would be destroyed," said Taleban cultural minister Mullah Qudratullah Jamal, adding that "whatever means of destruction are needed to demolish the statues will be used."
The ruling was also directed at the remaining figures and religious artifacts left in Kabul's once famous museum.
The museum, once regarded as a treasure trove of Central Asia's pre-Islamic past, has been bombed and systematically looted during Afghanistan's years of civil war.
Museums in the southern city of Ghazni, the western city of Herat and at Farm Hadda near the main eastern town of Jalalabad have also thought to have been targeted.
The Taleban want to remove any reminders of the centuries before Islam when Afghanistan was a center of Buddhist learning and pilgrimage.
The group's spiritual leaders say that Islam forbids the making of images, such as pictures and paintings of people.
The United Nations world heritage body UNESCO has denounced the action as "vandalism" and urged other Islamic nations to put pressure on the Taleban to halt the destruction.
On Thursday one of the world's premier art museums, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, offered to buy Afghan artifacts in a desperate bid to stop the ruling Taleban from smashing priceless historic statues.
"Let us come at our own cost and let us remove what we are able to remove," said Phillippe De Montebello, director of the Metropolitan Museum, a premier repository of art and artifacts.
The statue-smashing has scandalized Buddhists, Christians and Muslims around the world who have said it is not only destroying the history of civilization but it is damaging the cause of both Afghanistan and Islam.
Even traditional foes India and Pakistan have found themselves in agreement.
India, home in exile for Tibet's Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, said it would try to stop the destruction which one Taleban official linked to the 1992 razing by Hindu extremists of a 16th century mosque in Ayodhya in northern India.
Meanwhile Pakistan, one of the Taleban's few foreign supporters, has added its voice to the condemnation, urging the group to preserve the "world's historical, cultural and religious heritage."
Egypt, another largely Islamic nation, said the edict was contrary to Islam because it respects other cultures "even if they include rituals that are against Islamic law."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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