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Giant Buddha statues 'blown up, 11 March, 2001
The statues had stood guard over the Bamiyan valley for centuries
Afghanistan's ruling Taleban have blown up two giant Buddha statues in defiance of international efforts to save them, according to independent reports.
True faith elicits respect and you have to respect what is sacred to others
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in Pakistan on a tour of the region, described the Taleban's acts as a disservice to themselves and to Islam.
Reports say the demolition of the ancient monuments near Bamiyan - one thought to be the tallest of its kind in the world - was supervised by the Taleban's defence minister over the last few days.
The Taleban's foreign minister, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, told Mr Annan in Pakistan that demolition was still continuing, though not much of the ancient treasures was left.
"Basically he confirmed that all movable statues have been destroyed and the destruction of the two [giant] statues had begun, but he could not tell me the status of the demolition," Mr Annan said.
But an aid worker quoted by the AP news agency said witnesses told him the destruction was now complete.
The larger, 53-metre (175-feet) statue was blown up on Thursday, and the smaller 38-metre (120-feet) destroyed the following day.
The statues are among Asia's great archaeological treasures
The aid worker said the work was "professionally done".
The extent of the damage is hard to confirm, as the militia have blocked journalists from visiting the province.
The monuments, once a big tourist draw, dated back to between the second and fifth centuries AD, before the coming of Islam, when Afghanistan was a centre of Buddhist learning and pilgrimage.
'Disservice to Islam'
While the condition of the statues has remained unclear over the last few days, the international community has sought to persuade the Taleban to halt their plans.
Throughout Islam's history in Afghanistan the statues were preserved and no Muslim doctrine has suggested their destruction
Egyptian religious leader
As well as appeals from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Japan, a delegation from the world's largest Muslim body, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) had travelled to Afghanistan to try to change their minds.
While the Taleban say they acted because the statues were "un-Islamic", Kofi Annan said: "If they do carry through this lamentable decision I think they will be doing themselves a great deal of disservice.
"And they will be doing a great deal of disservice to Islam, in whose name they claim to be doing this - but I don't think anyone will accept that," he said.
He said the demolition would not help fund-raising appeals for aid for the Afghan people - although no government had categorically refused to give aid if the moves went ahead.
Discussion ruled out
The Taleban foreign minister said on Sunday the move had the support of the ordinary Afghan people.
Anti-Taleban protests have been held around the world
Speaking at the Taleban's Islamabad embassy on Sunday, he said the decision was "totally an internal religious matter".
"We do admit all these statues were the cultural heritage of Afghanistan," Mr Muttawakil said.
"But we will not leave the part which is contrary to our belief."
He dismissed opposition from other Islamic countries saying they were motivated only "for the sake of reconciliation".