March 23, 2011 / 3:27 PM / 9 years ago

UNESCO urges all sides to preserve Libyan treasures

* U.N. agency urges protection of heritage sites

* No damage reports yet, but vulnerable spots signalled

PARIS, March 23 (Reuters) - The U.N. agency in charge of the world’s cultural heritage urged all sides in Libya on Wednesday to preserve the country’s ancient treasures, including the former Greek colony of Cyrene and its temple of Apollo.

Looters pillaged Cairo’s museum during the uprising in Egypt earlier this year, prompting similar appeals from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to protect North Africa’s wealth of ancient treasures.

“From a cultural heritage point of view, Libya is of great importance to humanity as a whole,” Irina Bokova, head of the Paris-based UNESCO, said in a statement.

While no damage has yet been reported, at least three sites were cause for particular concern due to their proximity to Tripoli and other strategic areas, Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO’s assistant director-general for culture, told Reuters.

Among five Libyan sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, he highlighted the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna and the ancient Phoenician trading post of Sabratha, within 130 km (80 miles) west of the Libyan capital Tripoli.

Another vulnerable site was the ancient mountain city of Cyrene, once given as a gift to Cleopatra by Roman general Mark Antony, which faces the Mediterranean Sea east of Benghazi, the stronghold city of rebels challenging Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s four-decade rule.

Bokova appealed to Libyans and international forces engaged in air strikes against Gaddafi to respect the Hague Convention of 1954 on wartime protection of cultural sites.

Libya is not party to that agreement, designed to avoid a repeat of the World War Two destruction of cities such as Dresden in Germany. (Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Brian Love)

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