Karzai says Buddha will be rebuilt

BAMIYAN, Afghanistan — Standing at the foot of the ruins of a giant stone Buddha destroyed by the Taliban last year, interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai promised yesterday that his government would rebuild the ancient sculpture.

The 175-foot statue and a smaller 120-foot one were chiseled into a cliff more than 1,500 years ago in the central Bamiyan Valley on the ancient Silk Route linking Europe and Central Asia.

The fundamentalist Taliban considered the statues "idolatrous" and against the tenets of Islam and blew them up.

Afghan sculptor Amanulah Haiderzad said the government might keep the smaller statue in ruins as a monument to Taliban abuse.

In the cliffs where the statues stood, a labyrinth of ancient caves has become filled with destitute families of ethnic Hazaras, inhabitants of the area who fled Taliban attacks. Hazaras say as many as 15,000 of their people, followers of Islam's minority Shia branch, were slaughtered in killings orchestrated by the Taliban, a radical Sunni Muslim movement.

Many Hazaras fled to Pakistan, Iran or other parts of Afghanistan, but some have returned.