Timbuktu, in northern Mali, is a UNESCO World Heritage site of huge cultural importance. Pictured is its famous Sankore Mosque, built in the 15th-16th centuries.

As the violence in Mali escalates following France’s intervention to halt the advance of Islamist fighters, UNESCO has issued calls for the protection of the ancient city of Timbuktu, urging armed forces to safeguard the nation’s historic and religious landmarks.

“I ask all armed forces to make every effort to protect the cultural heritage of the country, which has already been severely damaged,” the U.N. agency’s director-general Irina Bokova said earlier this week.

(Via. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/01/18/world/africa/mali-timbuktu-destruction-unesco/index.html)