UNESCO condemns ‘repugnant acts’ in Timbuktu


UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee condemned Tuesday the destruction of mausoleums in Mali’s Timbuktu, urging the head of the U.N. cultural body to set up an emergency fund for Mali.

In a statement released Tuesday during its annual meeting in Saint Petersburg, the cultural body’s committee called for an end to the “repugnant acts” of destruction, citing a decision passed by its members a day earlier.

It said that the decision also called on UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova to “create a special fund to help Mali in the conservation of its cultural heritage” and to send a mission to assess the damage.

It appealed for contributions from its member states as well as from two associations of Muslim countries: the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

UNESCO reacted with horror after Islamist extremists destroyed ancient tombs in the legendary city of Timbuktu just days after the body had recognized the sites on its World Heritage list.

The body held an unusual public protest on Tuesday afternoon attended by Mali’s culture minister and committee members next to a landmark statue of Tsar Peter the Great in the center of the picturesque city in northwestern Russia.

“We see this act as a real crime against history,” the chairperson of the 2012 World Heritage Committee, Eleonora Mitrofanova, said afterwards in a strongly worded official statement in her native Russian.

She called for governments, international organizations and media to unite “not to allow these barbarians to erase these monuments from the face of the earth.”

“Let’s remember the Buddha statues in Bamiyan” she said, recalling the 2001 Taliban attacks on ancient Buddhist sites in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan valley, where the extremist group blew up giant statues it ruled were un-Islamic.

Speaking Monday after the committee passed its decision on Mali, which was not immediately made public, Mali’s Culture and Tourism Minister Fadima Diallo had thanked UNESCO for what she called its speedy reaction to the events.

“Mali is delighted with the declaration that has come out of this committee to come up with urgent funds,” the minister said during a meeting broadcast online.

“We can only express our thanks to the international committee for their speedy reaction.”