Islamists continue destroying Timbuktu heritage

By Rukmini Callimachi

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, July 3 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

On Sunday during a stop in Senegal, Fatou Bensouda, prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, said that the destruction of the city's patrimony constitutes "a possible war crime," according to private radio station RFM. And on Monday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned the destruction, telling reporters in Washington that the United States calls on all groups to enter into a ceasefire.

For years before the north of Mali became a base for an offshoot of al-Qaida, Timbuktu was a must-see for backpackers and package tour groups. Much of the city thrived on tourism, from young men who memorized the history of the tombs and details of the ancient manuscripts to in order to act as tour guides to the numerous hotels, nearly all of which are now shuttered.

Hamaha said he didn't care about the impact that their actions will have on tourism. "We are against tourism. They foster debauchery," he said.

Scholars held out hope that the Islamists would not also attack the city's 20,000-catalogued manuscripts, some dating as far back as the 12th century. Beyond the tombs, the manuscripts are considered to be the real treasure of the region and library owners have succeeded in spiriting some of the manuscripts out of the city, or else buried them in secure locations.

"We're talking about generations and generations of culture being destroyed," said New York-based Michael Covitt, chairman of the Malian Manuscript Foundation. "It's an outrage for the entire world."

Associated Press writers Rukmini Callimachi and Sadibou Marone contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal. Baba Ahmed contributed from Bamako, Mali.

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