The United Nations cultural organization put the besieged city of Timbuktu and the nearby Tomb of Askia on its endangered list Thursday, citing threats to the designated world treasures from ethnic and religious fighting in northern Mali.
By placing the historic sites on its List of World Heritage in Danger, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said it "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," as 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 mud-walled Tomb of Askia, built by the Emperor of Songhai in 1495 in his capital Gao, 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.
Since Taureg separatists staged a coup in March against the Mali government based in Bamako, fighting between the Tauregs and the fundamentalist Islamic Ansar Dine faction for control of the northern treasures has raged around the historic venues.
UNESCO's World Heritage Committee proclaimed after a meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, that Timbuktu and the tomb in Gao are now in danger of being looted.
-- Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles
Photo: The Islamic center and a mosque in Timbuktu in 2010. Credit: Habib Kouyate / AFP/Getty Images