|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Findings of Assessment Mission to World Heritage Sites
Damaged in Mali Conflict
Experts from Mali and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) found the damage to the cultural heritage of Timbuktu more extensive than first estimated, senior officials of the country’s Government and the world body said today in Bamako and at New York Headquarters during a press conference.
Briefing via video link from Bamako on the damage caused after rebel groups seized northern Mali in 2012, were: Bruno Maiga, Minister for Culture; Aurélien Agbénonci, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Mali, on behalf of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA); Lazare Eloundou, Chief of the Africa Section of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre; and Richard Zink, Chief of the European Union Delegation in Mali.
Mr. Eloundou said the team of experts had travelled to Timbuktu this week to take stock of the damage following attacks by rebels who had occupied northern Mali until earlier this year. The mission included experts from Mali, as well as others from the Fund for African Heritage, the National French Library, the European Union, MINUSMA and the National Federation of Museums. “We could see that the situation was far more alarming than we had thought,” he said. Many more mausoleums had been destroyed than originally estimated.
He said the experts had met with imams, who had urged them to preserve the remaining ancient manuscripts. UNESCO estimated that as many as 4,200 ancient manuscripts from the Ahmed Baba research centre had been burned, and private museums had also been looted. The Action Plan for Mali ‑ announced on 18 February ‑ estimated at $11 million the cost of rehabilitating the cultural heritage damaged, protecting ancient manuscripts and providing training for their conservation. “We’ve lost irreplaceable items,” Mr. Maiga stressed, noting that that made it very difficult to determine the cost of what had been lost. “The damage is so enormous.” He praised UNESCO for having dedicated a day-long February meeting to determining a way forward and for having adopted a strongly worded resolution on the preservation of threatened heritage sites.
Mr. Agbénonci, underscoring United Nations support for Mali, said the loss of cultural identity was a “wound that goes to the soul of the people”. The President of Mali had met with the UNESCO Director-General in Timbuktu to discuss how such losses could be avoided in the future. He also praised the Security Council’s adoption of resolution 2100 (2013), which for the first time placed cultural heritage on a par with security concerns. “This is a good step,” he said.
Mr. Zink said the European Union was funding cultural centres in Bamako and elsewhere in Mali, naming France, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden as having already been active in that regards. “Man does not live by bread alone,” he declared. “We need culture to have a complete life.” The European Union had flexible, rapid funding available for restoring mausoleums, the Al Farouk monument as well as mosques and manuscripts. It also planned to build a road from Timbuktu to Bamako ‑ the largest road project ever undertaken in a third country ‑ to foster tourism.
Responding to a question from a journalist in Bamako, one of the panellists said it was estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 manuscripts had been burned at the institute where the occupiers had established their headquarters, and many had been totally destroyed. Citing one success, he said a military patrol had recovered some manuscripts from a group that had stolen them and gone looking for a buyer. Cautioning against placing a price on national cultural heritage, he said: “Part of ourselves has been lost. We have to rebuild ourselves.”
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