UNESCO plans mission to assess ‘wanton destruction’ in Mali

PTI Paris | Updated on March 12, 2018

The UN cultural organisation UNESCO said it would send a mission to the historic city of Timbuktu in war-torn Mali as soon as possible to assess the damage done to ancient cultural sites.

“UNESCO will send a mission, as soon as security permits, to undertake a complete evaluation of the damage and determine the most urgent needs, in order to finalise a plan of action... that will guide reconstruction and rehabilitation,” the body’s director general Irina Bokova said in a statement.

“The recent escalation of wanton destruction of Mali’s heritage makes this all the more urgent,” she added.

“UNESCO will spare no effort to help rebuild the mausoleums of Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia in Gao,” she said, referring to World Heritage sites in two northern towns that have recently been recaptured by French-led forces in their offensive against Islamist rebels who have been occupying Mali’s north since last April.

In the fabled desert city of Timbuktu, an ancient centre of Islamic learning, the extremists last year smashed up mausoleums of ancient saints and the entrance to the 15th-century Sidi Yahya mosque, claiming the sites were blasphemous.

The destruction caused indignation around the world, UNESCO said.

The city is also home to some 300,000 ancient manuscripts, according to UNESCO, and the body would do everything it could to “help safeguard and preserve the ancient manuscripts”, Bokova said.

Reports had emerged in recent days that rebels fleeing the advancing soldiers had torched a building housing thousands of priceless manuscripts, but an expert said Wednesday that most had been smuggled to safety as the Islamists overran the city last year.

“A vast majority was saved... more than 90 percent,” said Shamil Jeppie, Tombouctou Manuscripts Project director at the University of Cape Town.

Published on January 31, 2013

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