Cambodia slams Afghanistan's Taliban over statue destruction

PHNOM PENH - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday criticized Afghanistan's Taliban authorities over the reported destruction of Buddha statues in the country.

''I strongly condemn the Taliban authorities for destroying Buddha statues in Afghanistan,'' Hun Sen said at the opening of the 11th meeting of a UNESCO intergovernmental committee for promoting the return of cultural assets to their countries of origin.

He said Cambodia ''strongly condemns the destruction of cultural heritage belonging to any nation and religion.''

Cambodia's official religion is Buddhism, with Buddhists accounting for almost 95% of the population.

The United States, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, Italy, Sri Lanka and Thailand have voiced strong concern over the Taliban decision.

The Taliban militia, which controls most of Afghanistan, recently ordered the smashing of all pre-Islamic statues in the country by the ''injunction of Islam.''

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) sent an envoy to Afghanistan over the weekend to appeal to the Taliban to stop the destruction of the statues.

But nearly one-fourth of two towering rock-hewn Buddhas in central Afghanistan's Bamyan Province has been destroyed, the Afghan Islamic Press has reported.

AP-NY-03-06-01 0128EST

Copyright 2001 The Kyodo News Service.