PARIS, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said she was "deeply distressed" by the level at which Mali's cultural heritage was ravaged by war.
French forces responded Jan. 11 to a request from former colony Mali to stop the advance of foreign Islamic rebels and al-Qaida fighters. Control over the north of the country was lost following a coup in early 2012.
The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said it was monitoring reports that rebel fighters set fire to thousands of 13th- and 16th-century manuscripts in Timbuktu as they retreated.
"I am deeply distressed by the wanton destruction of Mali's heritage that the world has witnessed in recent months," Bokova said in a statement. "UNESCO will spare no effort in working with the people of Mali to recover what is rightfully theirs."
Destruction of protected heritage sites in Timbuktu last year was compared to the razing of the giant Buddha statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, at the hands of the Taliban in 2001.
French forces have encountered little resistance as they press further north. The U.S. and British governments have promised logistical support from Bamako for the French intervention.