Islamic center and a mosque in Timbuktu
The UN cultural organisation UNESCO on Thursday listed the entire town of Timbuktu and the nearby tomb of Askia as endangered world heritage, citing the ongoing violence in the region from ethnic and
religious fighting in the West African nation of Mali.
UNESCO said the decision to place both the town and the nearby tomb on its List of World Heritage Sites in Danger "aims to raise cooperation and support for the sites threatened by the armed conflict in the region."
"Timbuktu was an intellectual and spiritual capital and a center for the propagation of Islam throughout Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries," UNESCO described the city now engulfed in fighting among government troops and two rival rebel forces. "Its three great mosques, Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia, recall Timbuktu's golden age."
The world's main watchdog over the safety of some of history's greatest treasures and most threatened cultural exhibits designated the iconic town - once a trading hotsport and hub of scholarly studies - a heritage site in 1988.
The Tomb of Askia for its part is a towering pyramidal structure erected out of mud more than 500 years ago to commemorate the burial site of a famous emperor. It is described by UNESCO on its website as bearing testimony "to the power and riches of the empire that flourished in the 15th and 16th centuries through its control of the trans-Saharan trade." Both sites are examples of the monumental mud-building traditions of the West African Sahel, the agency said.
The tomb is located in Gao - a town that has in recent weeks been controlled both by Islamist gunmen who represent an offshoot of al-Qaeda as well as Tuareg rebels.
UNESCO's world heritage committee said during its meeting in Russia's second city of Saint Petersburg that both sites were now in danger of being looted.
It called on Mali's neighbours "to do all in their power to prevent the trafficking in cultural objects from these sites" and encouraged stronger cooperation in the region.
"There is concern that such objects, notably important ancient manuscripts, be looted and smuggled abroad by unscrupulous dealers," UNESCO said in a statement.