World donors pledged more than USD 75 million today to an historic UNESCO-backed alliance to protect cultural heritage sites threatened by war and the wave of ideological-driven destruction carried out by Islamic State group militants.
French President Francois Hollande, speaking at a donors' conference in Paris' Louvre Museum, passionately called on more countries to contribute to the newly-created heritage alliance and help push it past its "ambitious" USD 100 million goal.
IS militants have stolen or destroyed a host of cultural artifacts, including the ancient Syrian town of Palmyra, the Mosul museum in Iraq and the 13th century BC Assyrian capital of Nimrud, which is also in Iraq.
"At Bamiyan, Mosul, Palmyra, Timbuktu and elsewhere, fanatics have engaged in trafficking, looting and the destruction of cultural heritage, adding to the persecution of populations," Hollande said.
In coordination with UNESCO, the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH) aims to prevent heritage site destruction, fight trafficking of stolen artifacts and pay for restoration. But it also seeks to create a global network of sites in which artifacts endangered by fighting or terrorism could be temporarily stored for safekeeping.
"The first emergency is Iraq. We will need to carry out a precise inventory of the damages to monuments, museums and libraries. But there are other critical situations. Mali, Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria," he added.
Hollande suggested today that a Group of Seven culture ministers meeting in Florence next week could be used to get further donations.
Seven countries and one philanthropist pledged a total of USD 75.5 million at the conference, which was held in an ancient Middle Eastern sculpture-clad wing of the Louvre.
France pledged the most at USD 30 million, with support forthcoming from Arab countries including Saudi Arabia (USD 20 million), the United Arab Emirates (USD 15 million), Kuwait (USD 5 million) and Morocco (USD 1.5 million.)
Luxembourg pledged USD 3 million, and private donor Thomas Kaplan promised USD 1 million.
Switzerland pledged a further USD 8 million in operational and administrative costs to help set up the fund's first headquarters in Geneva.
Italy, meanwhile, said it would provide an ALIPH task force that includes military personnel and conservation experts.
Germany, China and Mexico said they would help by storing the heritage objects threatened by war in national museums, and lobby countries to do the same.
The first concrete steps to creating ALIPH came about in a meeting between Hollande and Abu Dhabi's powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in the Emirati capital in December.
"This achievement is truly historic," said Mohamed Al Mubarak, the crown prince's special representative.