The World Heritage Committee, a United Nations group dedicated to preserving cultural heritage, is calling on the international community to help Mali protect its cultural treasures, including the fabled city of Timbuktu, one of Africa’s intellectual and spiritual centers.

Mausoleums in Timbuktu and other heritage sites have been destroyed as a result of the renewed fighting between government forces and Tuareg rebels earlier this year.

According to a news release by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), rebels have looted sites containing thousands of ancient books and documents in Timbuktu, which was the wellspring for Islam’s spread throughout Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries.

In addition, there have been reports of the destruction of three sacred tombs – the Mausoleums of Sidi Mahmoud, Sidi Moctar and Alpha Moya—also located in Timbuktu.

“Reports that the Mausoleums of Sidi Mahmoud, Sidi Moctar and Alpha Moya have been destroyed is extremely distressing,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in a statement on June 30. “There is no justification for such wanton destruction and I call on all parties engaged in the conflict to stop these terrible and irreversible acts, to exercise their responsibility and protect this invaluable cultural heritage for future generations.”

During its 36th annual meeting held in St. Petersburg in late June, the World Heritage Committee received a request from the government of Mali to place Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger.

Not only did the Committee accept that request but it also decided on measures to help preserve those endangered treasures.

In addition to creating a special fund, the 21-member committee also asked neighboring countries to help prevent the trafficking in cultural objects from the sites.