Taliban rejects UNESCO envoy’s pleas over statues: report

KABUL, AFP and Reuters

UNESCO special envoy Pierre Lafrance on Sunday failed to persuade Afghanistan’s Taliban militia to stop the demolition of the country’s pre-Islamic cultural heritage, a report said.

Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel said he had detailed discussions with Lafrance in the militia’s southern bastion of Kandahar but could see no reason to stop the destruction, the private Afghan Islamic Press reported.

“I do not see any chance to change our decision and stop the demolition of these statues,” he was quoted as saying after the talks.

Lafrance, the former French ambassador to Iran and Pakistan, was sent Friday from Europe on an emergency mission to persuade the fundamentalist Islamic militia to stop destroying the country’s precious statues.

Mutawakel said the envoy presented him with a message from UNESCO chief Koichiro Matsuura demanding a halt to the destruction.

“Words fail me to describe adequately my feelings of consternation and powerlessness as I see the reports of the irreversible damage that is being done to Afghanistan’s exceptional cultural heritage,” Matsuura said last week.

Taliban officials said the destruction, designed to stop idolatry, was nearly complete despite an international outcry.

Also Sunday, the world’s leading industrial nations expressed shock over a plan by the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan to destroy statues and shrines and urged them not to go ahead with their “deeply tragic decision.”

The Taliban has ignored all calls to stop the destruction saying they were merely carrying out an Islamic ban on images of living things — part of their efforts to create the world’s purest Muslim state.

“Mindful that the diversity of natural and human systems is at the core of sustainable development, we express dismay and shock at reports of the edict of the Taliban leadership ordering the destruction of all statues and shrines in Afghanistan,” the Group of Eight said.

The position was stated in a final document of a meeting of the G-8 environment ministers in Trieste.

“We strongly urge the Taliban leadership not to implement this deeply tragic decision and fully support the efforts of UNESCO to this end,” the statement said.

“Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage is of vital importance not only to the people of Afghanistan but also to the world as a whole,” the G-8 statement said.

The fate of the world’s two most famous giant Buddha statues in central Afghanistan was still unclear on Sunday due to conflicting reports on whether their destruction had begun.

The two Buddhas, towering 175 feet (53 meters) and 120 feet (36.5 meters) high in cliff-side niches, are the first known examples of the massive Buddha images that spread through Asia.

Information and Culture Minister Qudratullah Jamal told Reuters the Islamic movement would not reverse its decision to demolish the statues and other idols for which an edict was issued last week by Mullah Mohammad Omar, the supreme Taliban leader.