Islamist rebels occupying the ancient Mali city of Timbuktu at the weekend destroyed six sacred tombs, or mausoleums, that are part of a World Heritage site, alleging that they are "idolatrous."
The militant 'Ansar Dine' group has threatened to destroy every mausoleum in the city, as building on graves is taboo in Islam.
The al-qaeda linked outfit on Saturday reportedly vandalized three mausoleums -- of Sidi Mahmoud, Sidi Moctar and Alpha Moya -- in the cemetery at the 14th-Century Djingareyber mosque. Three more were smashed the day after.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has warned that the destruction of the mausoleums is a "war crime," which her office has authority to probe.
The government of the West African country has urged the U.N. to take action to stop crimes against its architectural treasures.
The attacks on centuries-old shrines to Islamic saints, revered by Sufi Muslims, come within hours of the World Heritage Committee meeting being held in the Russian city of St. Petersburg accepting the Mali government's request to place Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia on UNESCO's List of World Heritage in Danger.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova expressed her distress and dismay over the destruction of the sacred tombs in Timbuktu, and called on the belligerents to cease the destruction immediately.
She has repeatedly urged international cooperation to protect the sites which bear witness to the golden age of Timbuktu in the 16th century and to a history that stretches even further back to the fifth century of the Hijra.
Eleonora Mitrofanova, Chairperson of the UNESCO session in St. Petersburg, described the destruction of the tombs as "tragic news for us all and, even more so for the inhabitants of Timbuktu who have cherished and preserved this monument over more than seven centuries."
by RTT Staff Writer
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