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UNESCO to restore Mali’s conflict-hit Bandiagara site

The UN’s culture organisation will restore the world heritage site of Bandiagara, in central Mali, which has been hit hard by the country’s long-running conflict, it announced Tuesday.

The work will focus on sites devoted to traditional culture, as well as restoring ceremonial objects in a memorial collection, UNESCO said in its statement.

It will be able to launch the three-year project thanks to $1 million in funding from the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH), the organisation added.

Bandiagara is in the central region of Mopti, the site of repeated attacks by the jihadists who have been active in the country since 2012. The region has also been hit by intercommunal violence.

“In addition to claiming civilian lives and creating insecurity, the crisis caused the total or partial destruction of close to 30 villages, of which half are located within the boundaries of the World Heritage property of the Cliff of Bandiagara (Land of the Dogon),” said UNESCO.

“The gradual disappearance of such cultural practices as traditional funerary rituals, and masked dances, as well as the Yaaral and the Degal festivities fuelled intercommunal strife.”

UNESCO said the project would also work on restoring paid work for women, which was central to promoting “reconciliation between communities”.

Mali has been struggling to quell a jihadist revolt that first broke out in north in 2012, before spreading to the centre, as well as neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Central Mali saw a surge in violence from 2015, when the Islamic preacher Amadou Koufa founded the Katiba Macina militia, recruiting widely from the Fulani community.

Koufa helped set up the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel affiliated with Al-Qaeda, in 2017.

Attacks, often followed by reprisals, have multiplied. They took an intercommunity turn between the Fulani, mainly breeders, and the Bambara and Dogon ethnic groups, who mainly practise agriculture.

UNESCO describes the Bandiagara site as “an outstanding landscape of cliffs and sandy plateaux with some beautiful architecture” and ancient social traditions and rituals.

The World heritage site covers 289 villages over 400,000 hectares (nearly 990,000 acres).

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