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Nations approve protection fund for war zone heritage sites

Around 40 countries have approved plans to establish a $100 million fund to protect cultural heritage sites in conflict zones. The countries also agreed to set up a network of safe havens for at-risk artworks.

Representatives from almost 40 nations agreed the heritage protection fund on Saturday at the end of the two-day Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage conference in Abu Dhabi.

"We are committed to pursuing (these) two ambitious, long-term goals to guarantee the further mobilization of the international community for the safeguarding of heritage," the countries said in a statement in the United Arab Emirates capital.

Organizers of the UNESCO-backed meeting hope to secure an initial $100 million (93.7 million euros) for the fund.

The money will be used to prevent or stop destruction of historical sites, fight stolen artifact trafficking and pay for the restoration of cultural sites damaged by war during times of conflict.

France, who is spearheading the initiative with the United Arab Emirates, pledged to contribute around $30 million (28 million euros) the fund which will be based out of Geneva. French President Francois Hollande announced the contribution during the conference on Saturday.

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova hailed the nations' "strong commitment" in a post on Twitter.

Maria Böhmer, the Minister of State with Germany's Foreign Office, welcomed the initiative at the conference, saying the protection fund promotes peace and is a "commitment to people."

Safe havens for endangered art

In Syria, Mali, Afghanistan and Iraq, militants have targeted cultural heritage sites that they deem un-Islamic. Last year, the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) group documented the systematic destruction of monuments in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.

In Iraq, IS used bulldozers and explosives to destroy artifacts and ancient sites in Nimrud as well as ransacking pre-Islamic treasures in a Mosul museum.

To prevent further cultural heritage destruction, Saturday's agreed plan also seeks to establish a network of safe havens for endangered artworks. The network would temporarily store artworks, cultural property and artifacts which are endangered by conflicts or terrorism.

Artworks would first be stored in a secure, safe location in the country itself to avoid issues with sovereignty. The second option of sending them to another country for safekeeping would be a last resort.

rs/rc (AP, AFP)

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