Conservation Libya

Libya’s ancient heritage left vulnerable after battles break out

Anti-Gaddafi forces claimed control of two key heritage sites in August

The Roman ruins of Leptis Magna

london. The International Institute for Conservation (IIC) has raised concerns over the threat to Libya’s ancient heritage following fighting that broke out between pro-Gaddafi loyalist fighters and rebel opposition forces in February. “We are very concerned, and have been throughout the conflict, for the heritage in Libya. We would welcome a chance to provide references to those in the new regime who are committed to protecting Libya’s archaeological and cultural treasures. Heritage is particularly vulnerable during times of conflict and we must all be alert to efforts to protect it,” says Jerry Podany, the president of the IIC.

Anti-Gaddafi forces claimed control of two key heritage sites in August: the 2,000-year-old Roman city of Sabratha 45 miles west of Tripoli, and the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna (Arch of Septimius Severus, left), which lies east of the capital on the Mediterranean coast. The Guardian newspaper reported that “Nato pulverised Sabratha’s military camp” following a three-day battle between opposition fighters and Gaddafi’s troops. Libya’s new minister of antiquities, Fadel Ali Mohammed, visited Sabratha in early September and reported that there was minimal damage. According to the Associated Press, assessments at Leptis Magna and the ancient Greek city of Cyrene also found little damage.

The country has two other Unesco World Heritage Sites: the Rock Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus and the old town of Ghadamès, which is one of the earliest pre-Saharan cities. Located on the border with Tunisia and Algeria, Ghadamès has reportedly been under siege since the conflict began. As we went to press, there was no information on the condition of these sites.

Unesco has issued a statement warning international museums and art dealers that they should avoid acquiring artefacts from Libya for fear that such objects may have been looted.

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