Australia deplores Afghan statue destruction

CANBERRA - Australia joined on Tuesday world condemnation of Afghanistan's Taliban rulers over the destruction of ancient treasures including two massive Buddhist statues.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer likened the destruction of the sandstone figures in the central Afghan province of Bamiyan to cultural vandalism. The ruling Taliban movement has ordered the destruction of all statues, saying they are un-Islamic.

"The Bamiyan statues are considered not only Afghanistan's best known archaeological treasures, but are of great importance to the whole of the world," Downer told parliament.

"Our government, along with many others, calls on the Taliban to respect the cultural and spiritual heritage of all religious groups and to stop all acts of destruction."

Followers of the supreme Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, have vowed to destroy all statues in Afghanistan, including the two Buddhas carved into a sandstone cliff which tower 175 feet (53 metres) and 120 feet (36.5 metres).

Omar's decree to destroy all statues in Afghanistan, which was a centre of Buddhist culture before the arrival of Islam more than 1,200 years ago, has attracted widespread international condemnation.

On Monday, Hindu hardliners in India burned a copy of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, while Germany has likened the destruction to Nazi book burning.

Witnesses said more than half of the two giant Buddhas had been damaged by shelling from Taliban forces in recent days but the firing had stopped on Tuesday for a Muslim holiday.

02:35 03-06-01

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