Unesco to help protect Mali's heritage

New Delhi, Jan 31 (IANS) Unesco will do everything possible to safeguard and rebuild Mali's cultural heritage, the UN agency's director-general said Thursday following burning of ancient manuscripts and destruction of mausoleums by Islamist rebels in the west African nation.

Describing Mali's cultural heritage as a "vital part of the country's identity and history," Irina Bokova said in a statement that the restoration and reconstruction would give people of Mali the strength and the confidence to rebuild national unity and look to the future.

Mali, a French colony until 1960, has been in turmoil since a military coup last March with Islamists seizing a vast area of northern Mali and trying to impose strict Sharia law.

As a result, France sent troops to Mali earlier this month to quell the regional Al Qaeda-led militia.

The rebels have burnt ancient manuscripts and destroyed mausoleums and Sufi shrines in Timbuktu, calling them blasphemous.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) said it would spare no effort to help rebuild the mausoleums of Timbuktu and the tomb of Askia in Gao.

"We will mobilise all our expertise and resources to help safeguard and preserve the ancient manuscripts that testify to the region's glorious past as a major centre of Islamic learning," Bokova said.

Timbuktu's three major mosques -- Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahi -- along with 16 mausoleums, were first inscribed on Unesco's World Heritage List in 1988. The Askia Tomb in the city of Gao followed in 2004.

In July last year, following the destruction of 11 of the mausoleums and the doors of Sidi Yahi, the sites were inscribed on Unesco's list of World Heritage in Danger.

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