Islamists who took control of Mali's heritage city of Timbuktu during a coup in March say they have begun smashing up remaining mausoleums. EU foreign policy coordinator Catherine Ashton said she was "deeply shocked."
Members of Ansar Dine - an offshoot of the al Qaeda terror network - used pickaxes on Sunday in the northern Mali city to destroy what remained of ancient shrines of Muslim saints, saying they were "idolatrous."
"Not a single mausoleum will remain in Timbuktu, Allah doesn't like it," Ansar Dine leader Abou Dardar told the news agency AFP.
The vandalism of the tombs in the UNESCO World Heritage city came just days after the United Nations Security Council gave the green light for a 3,300-strong African-led military force to wrest back control of northern Mali.
French Defence Mnister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Monday's edition of the La Croix newspaper that he believed the intervention could be launched in the first half of 2013. Planners had previously spoken of a start in September.
Tragedy, says Ashton
From Brussels, EU foreign policy coordinator Catherine Ashton said the destruction in Timbuktu was a "tragedy not only for the people of Mali, but for the whole world."
Ansar Dine began destroying the cultural treasures in July and followed up in October with more damage, despite a warning from the International Criminal Court.
The UN estimates that the conflict in Mali, which began with a coup in March, has displaced more than 400,000 people.
On Saturday, Ansar Dine and Tuareg separatists had said they were ready to negotiate with Mali's Bamako-based government.
ipj/pfd (dpa, AFP)