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Amid surging violence in surrounding Northern Mali, Timbuktu heritage sites rebuilt

Africa Renewal December 2019 - March 2020 Issue

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Amid surging violence in surrounding Northern Mali, Timbuktu heritage sites rebuilt

New arrivals from Mali sit inside one of the tents at Mbera Camp, some 50 kilometres inside Mauritania
New arrivals from Mali sit inside one of the tents at Mbera Camp, some 50 kilometres inside Mauritania. Photo: UNHCR/S. Barrit Laroze

The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) praised the people of Timbuktu for reconstructing cultural heritage sites destroyed by armed groups, saying “those who wanted to erase the legacy of the past have failed,” even as the UN refugee agency reported a surge of fighting in northern Mali that has forced hundreds of people across the border into Mauritania.

In a press release, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees quoted Aminata, one of the new arrivals in Mauritania as saying: “Fear led us to leave.” She explained: “We travelled to Fassala – which is the official entry point for Malian refugees into Mauritania – in a small truck with other families from the area.”

Almost 400 people fleeing a renewed outbreak of fighting in northern Mali have sought refuge in Mauritania over the last few months, the agency said.

The new arrivals joined nearly 50,000 other Malian refugees at Mbera camp located 50 kilometres inside Mauritania, where daytime temperatures routinely hit 45 degrees Celsius.

Much of the territory of northern Mali is claimed by different rebel groups, but it is under the de facto control of the MNLA (National Movement for Liberation of the Azawad). Lately, the area has seen a new upsurge in fighting, according to UNHCR.

Timbuktu, which has come under attack during the conflict, was the site of the inauguration of the newly-reconstructed mausoleums over the weekend.

“Those who wanted to erase the legacy of the past have failed,” said Arnauld Antoine Akodjènou Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali known as MINUSMA. “The reconstruction bears witness to the cultural vibrancy of Mali.”

According to UNESCO, extremists inflicted significant damage to Timbuktu’s cultural heritage in 2012 and 2013, including the destruction 14 out of the 16 mausoleums that had been given World Heritage status.

The mausoleums of Timbuktu had long been places of pilgrimage for the people of Mali and neighbouring West African countries.

UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova paid tribute to the inhabitants and masons of Timbuktu whose mobilization and skills played a crucial part in the reconstruction of the buildings.

She praised their work as “a lesson in tolerance, dialogue and peace,” and “an answer to all extremists whose echo can be heard well beyond the borders of Mali.”