The turmoil continues in northern Mali, where various armed groups, including Islamic militants, are exploiting political instability in the West African nation’s capital, Bamako, and the resulting security vacuum. Brushing aside government forces in several locations in an attempt to lay claim to the northern half of the country, some of the insurgents now are fighting among themselves.
The United States condemns the renewed fighting and calls on all groups to cease fire and engage with mediators from the Economic Community of West African States to restore peace to the troubled region.
In recent days the conflict in northern Mali has spread beyond a struggle for territory. Sites that are important to the heritage of Malians and the entire world have come under attack as one group seeks to impose its vision of religious faith on others.
In the ancient desert trading center of Timbuktu, members of the Ansar Dine rebel group have used axes, shovels and hammers to destroy the shrines and tombs of local saints. At least eight mausoleums and several tombs have been attacked, centuries-old shrines that reflected the local Sufi version of Islam and served as focal points for prayer and veneration. Adhering to a more fundamentalist creed, Ansar Dine venerates only the Koran and sees such memorials as a form of idolatry to be suppressed.
Acts against Timbuktu’s cultural heritage erase irreplaceable monuments which have been cared for by generations. Strategically positioned along important West African trading routes, Timbuktu became a famous seat of Islamic learning as well as a crossroads of civilizations. It is no stranger to conflict, with conquests over the centuries by Tuareg, Bambara, Moroccan and French fighters. Timbuktu’s shrines and tombs survived them all, until now.
The United States strongly condemns the destruction of the city’s shrines and holy places. We join the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and others in the international community in decrying the continued destruction of these valuable sites and call on all parties to protect Mali’s unique cultural heritage.