Beliefnet
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 9 (AP)--Using cannons and explosives, the Taliban has reportedly resumed blowing up two towering stone statues of Buddha, a task the religious militia began a week ago.

The explosions of the 3rd and 5th century statues were part of carrying out an order by Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Mohammed Omar for all statues in Afghanistan to be demolished. The order, meant to discourage idolatry, was given two weeks ago.

The Taliban, who rule roughly 95 percent of the country, had stopped its work on the giant statues for three days to honor the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. The statues are 120 and 170 feet high and are carved into a mountain in Bamiyan.

Opposition troops led by ousted president Burhanuddin Rabbani and operating in the area said Friday that the Taliban had resumed its work on the statutes Thursday afternoon. Bamiyan is about 75 miles from the capital, Kabul.

However, the troops are located several miles from the statues, said opposition spokesman Ahmed Bahram, so it was impossible for them to know the extent of the damage. However, he said opposition forces are hearing reports from locals.

The Taliban and the opposition are fighting for territory in parts of northern and central Afghanistan, including Bamiyan.

"Over the last three or four days the Taliban have been bringing in large amounts of explosives and yesterday they started blowing up the statues," Bahram said.

The Taliban were not immediately available for comment and have refused to allow anyone to go to Bamiyan to verify conflicting claims about the extent of the damage to the ancient carvings.

International appeals to save the statues will fail, said Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil.

"Our edict will be implemented. It's not reversible," Muttawakil said from the southern city of Kandahar, headquarters of the hard-line Islamic militia.

On Friday a delegation of Japanese diplomats headed to Kandahar to meet with Taliban officials to plead for the preservation of the statues.

A special UNESCO envoy, Pierre Lafrance, met earlier with the Taliban and said he hoped to return to Afghanistan on Saturday to make fresh efforts to save the war-ruined nation's pre-Islamic past.

In an interview in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad on Thursday, Lafrance acknowledged that the international community has no leverage and said the only hope of overturning the Taliban's order lies with Islamic clerics.

"The Islamic community has expressed its dismay at such a strange interpretation of their religion," he said. "Their Islamic scholars might be of some help and could provide some food for thought to the Taliban."

If not, Lafrance warned that the destruction of the statues could "open the door for religious fanaticism from all sides."

The taller of the two statues is believed to be the world's tallest standing Buddha. The smaller one is believed by people in Bamiyan to be female, although no body parts are visible.

Omar declared the statues idolatrous and against Islam.

Since then Islamic nations have disputed his interpretation of Islam and pleaded for the safeguard of the statues. He has refused, saying their opposition is political and designed to appease Western sentiments.
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