U.N. Confirms Destruction of Afghan Buddhas

Calling it a "crime against culture," UNESCO's director general today confirmed Afghanistan's Taliban rulers had destroyed two giant 5th-century statues of Buddha.

"I was distressed to learn from my Special Envoy, Pierre Lafrance, that the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was confirmed," Koichiro Matsuura, head of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said in a statement.

"In so doing, the Taliban have committed a crime against culture. It is abominable to witness the cold and calculated destruction of cultural properties which were the heritage of the Afghan people, and, indeed, of the whole of humanity."

At 175 feet, one of the statues was once the tallest standing icon of Buddha in the world.

The world reacted with horror when the Taliban, the fundamentalist Islamic group that controls most of Afghanistan, announced it was demolishing the archaeological treasures in the central town of Bamiyan, deeming the statues "un-Islamic."

A rash of desperate diplomatic measures greeted the announcements, but to no avail.

The Taliban used explosives to reduce the soaring statues to a pile of rubble, UNESCO confirmed.

For the past few weeks, journalists and observers have been banned from the site, although reports from Afghan opposition sources and international aid workers around Afghanistan said the demolition was supervised by the Taliban's defense minister.

'Disservice' To Islam

The Taliban's strict interpretation of Islam has been decried by a number of Islamic governments.

The 55-nation Organization of Islamic Conference sent a special team to the southern Afghan town of Kandahar over the weekend in an attempt to resolve the crisis.

The OIC delegation included Egypt's top cleric, Mufti Nasr Farid Wassel.

Even pleas from Pakistan, one of only three countries that formally recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan's government, went unheeded. Pakistan is widely believed to support the Pushtu-dominated Taliban guerrilla force.

While on a trip to the region, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan joined the chorus of outraged reactions, calling the Taliban's actions a "disservice" to themselves and to Islam.

Afghanistan's Unique Heritage

Speaking to reporters in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, Annan said the destruction of the statues could make it more difficult to raise aid for the impoverished country.

After more than 20 years of civil war, two years of drought and a merciless winter that has rendered millions of Afghans homeless, the hardy Afghan spirit once celebrated by travelers and authors is at an all-time low.

The Taliban's destruction of the Bamiyan statues as well as hundreds of other priceless artifacts stored in museums all over the country has been seen as a deliberate move to obliterate all remnants of the Central Asian country's pre-Islamic past.

Situated at the junction on the ancient Spice Route and Silk Road, Afghanistan has a unique heritage influenced by Greek, Persian, Hindu, Buddhist, Roman and Islamic cultures.

But it's a heritage that is now lost to the world.

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