The United States has strongly condemned destruction of Muslim shrines and other religious and historic sites in the ancient Mali city of Timbuktu by Islamist militants, including Ansar al-Dine.
"We are outraged by the continued destruction of these World Heritage sites and the ongoing intimidation of local populations," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said in a statement on Wednesday.
Washington joined UNESCO in urging "an immediate end to these destructive and irreversible acts," and called on all parties to protect this invaluable cultural heritage for future generations. "This is an assault not just on Mali but on the heritage of all Africans, and those responsible for these acts should be brought to justice," the statement added.
The U.S. government expressed deep concern over the situation of the Malian people. Mali has been a strong partner of the United States in the areas of democracy and governance, economic development, and peace and security.
Washington pledged support to the on-going efforts of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union to bring about a return of civilian rule in Mali and to mediate a solution to the rebellion in the north. It also appealed to all parties to ensure impartial and unhindered humanitarian access to populations in northern Mali.
The United States "strongly insisted" that all actors in Mali respect human rights and international humanitarian law. The people of Mali deserve to live in a secure environment free from fear and oppression where their universal human rights and fundamental freedoms - including the freedoms of religion and of expression - are protected and respected, it added.
Islamist rebels occupying Timbuktu destroyed several 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.
Mausoleums vandalized by the al-qaeda linked outfit include those of Sidi Mahmoud, Sidi Moctar and Alpha Moya -- in the graveyard of the 14th-century Djingareyber mosque.
International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has warned that destruction of the mausoleums is a "war crime," which her office has authority to probe.
The World Heritage Committee has placed Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia on UNESCO's List of World Heritage in Danger.
by RTT Staff Writer
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