Push for global alliance to protect heritage sites

Remains of the Arch of Triumph in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra in March. It was destroyed by ISIS in October last year.
Remains of the Arch of Triumph in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra in March. It was destroyed by ISIS in October last year.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ABU DHABI • Experts and government delegates from around the world will gather in the Gulf tomorrow, aiming to build a global alliance to protect cultural heritage threatened by extremism and conflict.

France and the United Arab Emirates are leading the initiative at a conference in Abu Dhabi to establish a global partnership that could respond to the destruction of ancient sites in Iraq and Syria.

Footage of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) using sledgehammers, bulldozers and explosives to erase ancient cultural sites - some millennia old - they deemed un-Islamic have spurred the calls for action.

The proposed partnership would include governments, public institutions, private groups, non-governmental organisations and experts.

The gathering will include French President Francois Hollande, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Unesco director Irina Bokova and representatives of some 40 nations.

It comes "in response to the growing threats to some of the world's most important cultural resources arising from sustained periods of armed conflicts, acts of terrorism and illicit trafficking of cultural property", organisers said.

Unesco says 55 of a total of 1,052 sites around the world are now listed as World Heritage in Danger.

The conference aims to create an international Geneva-based fund of US$100 million (S$143 million), said French authorities behind the initiative, to help cover the cost of transporting, safeguarding and restoring affected monuments, including using 3D reconstruction.

Another aim is to create "refuge zones" around the globe for endangered artworks, a source close to organisers said. Mr Hollande earlier announced a safekeeping facility due to open in northern France in 2019.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2016, with the headline 'Push for global alliance to protect heritage sites'. Print Edition | Subscribe