The U.N. cultural organization UNESCO on Thursday listed the entire town of Timbuktu in the west African nation of Mali as endangered world heritage because of ongoing violence in the region.
UNESCO said the decision to place both the town and the nearby Tomb of Askia on its List of World Heritage in Danger "aims to raise cooperation and support for the sites threatened by the armed conflict in the region."
The world's main watchdog over the safety of some of history's greatest treasures and most threatened cultural exhibits designated the iconic town -- once a trading mecca and hub of scholarly studies -- a heritage site in 1988.
The Tomb of Askia for its part is a towering pyramidal structure erected out of mud more than 500 years ago to commemorate the burial site of a famous emperor.
The tomb is located in Gao -- a town that has in recent weeks been controlled both by Islamist gunmen who represent an offshoot of Al-Qaeda as well as Tuareg rebels.
UNESCO's World Heritage Committee said during its meeting in Russia's second city of Saint Petersburg that both sites were now in danger of being looted.
It called on Mali's neighbors "to do all in their power to prevent the trafficking in cultural objects from these sites" and encouraged stronger cooperation in the region.
"There is concern that such objects, notably important ancient manuscripts, be looted and smuggled abroad by unscrupulous dealers," UNESCO said in a statement.
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