PARIS: The "outstanding architectural wonders" in the fabled city of Timbuktu could be damaged in the fighting that has engulfed northern Mali as rebels push forward, the UN cultural agency warned Tuesday.
"Timbuktu's outstanding earthen architectural wonders that are the great mosques of Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia, must be safeguarded," said UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova in a statement.
She called on the Malian authorities and on the warring factions to respect the desert country's heritage which she said was "essential to the preservation of the identity of the people of Mali and of our universal heritage".
Timbuktu, which was put on on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1988, bears witness to the golden age of Timbuktu in the 16th century and to a history that stretches even further back to the 5th century.
Mali has three other world heritage sites beside Timbuktu -- the old towns of Djenne, the cliff of Bandiagara in the Land of the Dogons, and the Tomb of Askia.
Timbuktu had until recently attracted tourists but they have been deterred by a raft of kidnappings in the deserts of west Africa by a group with links to Al-Qaeda.
Tuareg rebels, who have made lightning advances in the region since a military coup toppled Mali's civilian government, have seized all the key towns in northern Mali, including Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao. AGENCIES