Most of Timbuktu texts saved
The vast majority of Timbuktu's ancient manuscripts in state and private collections appear to be unharmed after the Malian Saharan city's 10-month occupation by Islamist rebel fighters, who burned some of them, experts said yesterday.
The news, based on information from people directly involved with the conservation of the historic texts, came as a relief to the world, which had been dismayed by reports of widespread destruction of the priceless manuscripts.
After French and Malian troops on Sunday retook Timbuktu, a Unesco World Heritage site and ancient seat of Islamic learning, from its Islamist insurgent occupiers, the city's mayor reported that the fleeing rebels had set fire to a major manuscript library.
But experts said that, though up to 2000 manuscripts might have been lost at the South African-funded Ahmed Baba Institute ransacked by the rebels, the bulk of the around 300000 texts in Timbuktu and its surrounds were believed to be safe.
Two sources said that soon after rebels swept into Timbuktu on April 1 curators and collectors had hidden the texts.
"They shipped them out and distributed them around," Cape Town University's Professor Shamil Jeppie said.