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April 5, 2012

UNESCO Warns Mali's Cultural Heritage Sites Endangered

Old Towns of Djenné
On April 2, UNESCO's Director-General Irina Bokova "voiced concern about the risk posed by fighting posed around the World Heritage site of Timbuktu in the north of Mali and recalled the internationally recognized obligation of countries to safeguard their heritage in times of war."

According to BBC News, a recent coup in the West African country has brought fighting to Timbuktu, an important center of Islamic study with 700,000 manuscripts, many from Timbuktu's golden age in the 15th and 16th centuries, in approximately 60 private libraries.

Director-General Bokova identified Timbuktu's architectural wonders as the great mosques of Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahla.  Timbuktu was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1988.

In the press release, UNESCO reiterates that "according to the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Properties in the Event of Armed Conflict and Its Protocols, armies must refrain from using or damaging cultural heritage properties during times of war."

Bokova offered UNESCO's "expertise and experience to help Mali ensure the safeguarding of Timbuktu."
According to recent news reports, rebels have entered the site and shots have been heard there.  Mali has three other world heritage sites beside Timbuktu: The Old Towns of Djenné, the Cliff of Bandiagara (Land of the Dogons) and the Tomb of Askia.
Last year in March, Samuel Sidibé, Director of the National Museum of Mali, attended UNESCO's meeting in Paris that commemorated the 40th anniversary of the 1970 Convention.