By Bakari Gueye
President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania is calling for a swift resolution of the Mali crisis in order to “spare the shared heritage of mankind”.
“Today, our main concern is the fate of the cultural heritage in the regions of northern Mali, particularly in Timbuktu,” the Mauritanian president said December 11th at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris
The president spoke after signing a joint declaration with UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova about the urgency of protecting the cultural heritage of northern Mali from destruction by Islamists and terrorists.
The agreement with UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova was signed in the presence of Dr. Mohamed Issa Al Jabiri, a UNESCO Special Envoy for Tolerance, Democracy and Peace.
Al Jabiri expressed his support for the efforts being made by Mauritania and UNESCO to preserve the Timbuktu shrines and mosques.
The destruction of the Sidi Yahya mosque by Ansar al-Din militants was “a crime against history”, UNESCO said last July.
During his speech, Abdel Aziz reaffirmed “Mauritania’s readiness to help our Malian brothers and our commitment to the security of their country”.
“It should come as no surprise that our main concern at present is the threats to cultural heritage in the regions of northern Mali, particularly Timbuktu, a city which has been accorded UNESCO World Heritage status and whose mosques, manuscripts and mausoleums hold a special importance in our collective memory,” the president said.
He spoke of the “learned men who illuminated a historic pathway”, and pointed to Ouadane, Chinguitti, Tichitt and Timbuktu as important cultural centres.
“We know perfectly well that all efforts to support the city of Timbuktu and to protect its cultural heritage essentially contribute to peace,” Abdel Aziz said.
“That’s why it is our sincere wish that the crisis in northern Mali will end, that it will be resolved as soon as possible, and that current events will not affect the shared heritage of mankind in that area,” he added.
Abdel Aziz noted that “in the name of sharia, mausoleums and mosques have been systematically destroyed since Ansar al-Din Islamists captured the city of the 333 saints in early April”.
“We are faced with a threat. That’s why we hope that this commitment will have a significant impact on future events in the region,” UNESCO chief Irina Bokova said after signing the declaration with Mauritania.
The Mauritanian president added that Mauritania stood “ready to help its sister republic of Mali at this difficult time”.
“We have already taken in around 100,000 Malian refugees who have fled the violence, and we will spare no effort in making sure that their stay with us is as comfortable as possible,” he said.
On the subject of military intervention in Mali by the Economic Community of West African Staes (ECOWAS), Abdel Aziz has repeatedly called for dialogue.
He told Jeune Afrique on December 15th that Mauritania preferred “attempting to solve the problems instead of making war on 60% of Mali’s territory”.