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Preserving Cultural Heritage Critical to Mali’s Future, Dignity

In the wake of the recent violence in Mali, ancient manuscripts thought lost in the destruction now appear to be safe and preserved. Lazare Eloundou Assomo, chief of UNESCO’s Africa unit in Paris, joins Margaret Warner to discuss the importance of preserving of Mali’s cultural heritage.

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    For more on the state of Timbuktu's ancient manuscripts and sites, I'm joined by Lazare Eloundou Assomo, chief of UNESCO's Africa unit in Paris.

    Mr. Assomo, thank you for joining it us.

    I'm wondering what you have heard about your chief's mission there to Timbuktu with President Hollande. Has she been able to make at least a preliminary assessment of the damage to these sites and these manuscripts?


    Ms. Bokova, of course, being there, had the opportunity to witness herself the extent of the damage. You have seen her visiting the — one of the ancient mosques which was built in the 14th century, but also seeing the burned and damaged manuscripts of the Ahmed Baba Institute.

    She also had opportunity to tour the old town. So, she has a lot — and she's even more convinced today than before that the role of UNESCO is absolutely important.


    Now, what about the manuscripts? I gather this library held about 40,000 of them. What percentage of them were destroyed or burned in some way? And what percentage were hidden away?


    Everybody knows that, in Timbuktu, manuscripts are held by different groups.

    You have the public library, of course, which was Ahmed Baba Institute. You also have private librarians who are having some of them, but also the families. It makes almost a total of 300,000 manuscripts and even more. So, we're talking about manuscripts that were burned by the Islamist group.

    This act of torching and burning the manuscript is something which we consider unacceptable because some of these manuscripts date from the 12th century. If some of them were among the burned manuscripts, it's a great loss for humanity.


    Now, what about the mausoleums? From the videos we have seen, the ones that were sort of hacked back last July, how can UNESCO go about rebuilding those?


    What the community needed to — used to do was to go to these mausoleums to pray and wash the offense after the mosque on Monday and also on Friday.

    So it has been for the past 100 years something they have been doing. And the fact that they have been destroyed was a way of stopping them for practicing their culture. And it's UNESCO's role today to make sure that these are rebuilt, because it's a living heritage.

    Without it, the community cannot look forward. But it's about their future, of course. It's about rebuilding their dignity.


    You still have war raging in Mali, or conflict, at least. How confident are you that Timbuktu is now safe from a repeat of what happened?


    Well, it is our hope that the situation will get better and better, normal and normal.

    And, also, I think it's UNESCO's responsibility to respond to the call from the people. And the Malian people, the communities of Timbuktu expect us to start helping and assisting them restore this heritage as soon as possible. And we will do it.


    Well, Lazare Eloundou Assomo from UNESCO in Paris, thank you so much.


    Thank you.

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