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EU Concerned Over Destruction Of Mausoleums, Sacred Sites In Mali

The European Union On Wednesday voiced its concerns over the destruction of mausoleums and other sacred sites in the historical city of Timbuktu in Mali, and reiterated its continued support for the establishment of a legitimate government in the African country.

In a statement issued by her office, EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton expressed her deep concerns about the "wanton and ruthless destruction of mausoleums and holy shrines in Timbuktu."

"This appears to be a deliberate attempt to destroy a valued and ancient part of the religious and cultural heritage not only of Mali's people but of the whole world," she said in the statement.

Insisting that these sacred places of prayer must be protected, Ashton condemned all such acts of destruction and reaffirmed the EU's commitment "to support the Malian people in the re-establishment of legitimate and accountable government throughout the country."

The latest developments come after Islamist rebels occupying the ancient Mali city of Timbuktu destroyed six sacred tombs, or mausoleums, that are part of a World Heritage site over the weekend, alleging that they are "idolatrous."

The Islamist 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 reportedly vandalized three mausoleums -- of Sidi Mahmoud, Sidi Moctar and Alpha Moya -- in the cemetery at the 14th-Century Djingareyber mosque on Saturday. Three more were destroyed the next day.

The attacks on centuries-old shrines to Islamic saints, revered by Sufi Muslims, came after the World Heritage Committee agreed at a meting held in the Russian city of St. Petersburg on Thursday to accept a request by Mali government's to place Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia on UNESCO's List of World Heritage in Danger.

Mali had witnessed a coup in March, triggered by dissatisfaction among a large section of the military over the government's failure to address demands for better supplies and arms to tackle the Tuareg uprising in the North. The coup leaders later agreed to return power to a civilian government following an agreement reached with ECOWAS in exchange for lifting sanctions against the military junta.

Nevertheless, Mali's Tuareg rebels, backed by Islamist militants who want to impose Islamic law across the whole of the West African State, captured a large portion of northern Mali late March and declared independence for the region.

However, most of the international community rejected the rebel independence declaration, and urged all sides involved to engage in talks to resolve the issue. It is estimated that the conflict has forced more than 320,000 people to flee northern Mali.

Last month, the ECOWAS regional grouping and the African Union had requested the UN Security Council for a mandate authorizing the deployment of an ECOWAS stabilization force In Mali to ensure the protection of state institutions and assist in upholding the country's territorial integrity of and in combating terrorism. The request was discussed during a meeting between the UN Security Council and a high-level delegation two weeks ago in New York.

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