Taliban surprised at world reaction to demolition of Buddhas
KABUL March 18 Kyodo - Taliban authorities are surprised by the world's reaction to their destruction of the two giant Bamyan Province Buddhas, but regretted the international community's silence during several instances of vital concern to Afghans, Taliban Foreign Minister Abdul Wakil Motawakil said Sunday.
''There was a golden opportunity to help the Afghans...when 300 Afghans died of exposure (in refugee camps),'' he told a press conference. ''They did not help in these instances. But when some statues of stones were destroyed, the international community made such a hue and cry, which really astonished us.''
He voiced hope that those who were anguished over the destruction of the towering, cliff-hewn Buddhas would not remain silent in other instances of great concern to Afghans.
He also dismissed charges that their destruction was an insult to Buddhism and its followers, saying the images represented ''an illegal cultural heritage'' that clashed with Islam and had to be eliminated.
Debate about the statues started when the Taliban decided to open Afghan museums to the general public, he said, and part of the clergy objected to having all statues on display.
He voiced regret that the international community has linked humanitarian assistance and the reconstruction of Afghanistan with political issues and was unwilling to help or hold dialogue with Afghanistan to resolve outstanding issues.
''The Afghan people were tortured by two superpowers in one century,'' he said, adding it does not matter whether the global community is willing to help because Afghanistan would remain an independent country for a thousand years.
Motawakil believes U.N. sanctions imposed in January this year are prolonging war in the country as there have been reports that the northern opposition alliance is stockpiling supplies and preparing for another offensive against Taliban forces.
He said supplies to the anti-Taliban forces have fueled fighting on six fronts during the winter, when guns were silent in past winters.
''You are also suffering because of sanctions,'' he told journalists who were asking for permission to go to Bamyan as the alliance launched another assault on the area on Saturday, making it unsafe.
Motawakil said no concrete steps have been made to resume dialogue with the alliance despite his indication that talks had resumed, made at a meeting with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in Islamabad earlier this month.
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