'Destruction of Buddhas nearly complete'
Kabul - The two ancient Bamiyan Buddhas in central Afghanistan have been almost completely destroyed despite protests from the international community, a Taliban official said on Saturday.
"I have said that the work is close to its end. The are 80 to 90 percent destroyed," said Abdul Hai Mutmaen, a Taliban spokesperson, speaking from the southern Taliban bastion of Kandahar.
Although he did not elaborate, Mawlawi Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel, the Taliban foreign minister, had earlier confirmed that soldiers had resumed blasting the two colossal Buddha statues after a break for a religious holiday.
"Work is under way. But I do not know how much has been destroyed," Mutawakel said.
Mutmaen said that Moinuddin Haider, the Pakistani interior minister, who travelled to Kandahar on Saturday, also failed to persuade Mohammad Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader, to scrap his latest decree.
Pakistan is the closest ally of the Taliban and one of only three countries that recognises the administration of the Islamic militia.
Egypt's top Muslim cleric and an influential Islamic scholar based in Qatar were also heading to Afghanistan to try to dissuade the ruling Taliban from destroying the two stone Buddhas and other relics.
Egypt's Middle East News Agency reported on Sunday that Grand Mufti Nasr Farid Wasel was en route to Afghanistan to meet Taliban officials.
Nearly two weeks ago, Omar declared the Buddhist statues "idolatrous and against Islam".
He ordered all statues in Afghanistan demolished, including two pre-Islamic stone carvings of Buddha in Bamiyan province. The taller of the two, measuring 51m high, is believed to be the world's tallest standing Buddha.
Since then, Islamic nations have disputed the Taliban's interpretation of Islam and pleaded for the safeguarding of the statues. Omar has rejected the nations' pleas, saying their opposition is aimed at appeasing sentiments in the West.
Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, is also due to meet Mutawakel today. - Sapa-AFP