Armed Malian Islamists are destroying shrines and mausoleums in Timbuktu.
Witnesses told VOA Saturday that members of the Ansar Dine Islamist group are attacking the historic sites with axes and other instruments.
Witnesses say the mausoleum of a revered Muslim saint, Sidi Mahmoud, has been destroyed. Timbuktu has been listed by UNESCO as an endangered world heritage site.
UNESCO says Timbuktu was once an intellectual and spiritual capital, as well as a center for the propagation of Islam throughout Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries.
UNESCO said on its website Thursday that it had decided to place Timbuktu on its endangered list because its sites were “threatened by the armed conflict in the region.”
The U.N. agency says it is concerned about trafficking in cultural objects from Timbuktu's sites, especially “important ancient manuscripts” that could be “looted and smuggled abroad by unscrupulous dealers.”
Timbuktu is home to thousands of ancient manuscripts, preserved in family homes and private libraries under the care of religious scholars.