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Paris offers to help restore precious Timbuktu documents

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

France's national library said Friday it was prepared to lead an international effort to save centuries-old manuscripts feared destroyed or damaged by Islamists as they were chased out of the northern Malian city of Timbuktu.

The Bibliotheque Nationale "stands ready to come to the aid of the Ahmed Baba Institute, seriously affected by recent events, in agreement with Malian and French authorities, when the situation allows", the library said in a statement.

The ancient centre of Islamic learning housed some 300,000 ancient manuscripts, according to UNESCO, before the Islamist extremists seized the fabled city on the edge of the Sahara last April.

Reports emerged in recent days that rebels fleeing the advancing French-led forces had torched a building housing thousands of priceless manuscripts, but an expert said Wednesday that most had been smuggled to safety in the capital Bamako as the Islamists overran the city.

"A vast majority was saved... more than 90 percent," said Shamil Jeppie, Tombouctou Manuscripts Project director at the University of Cape Town.

The insurgent fighters had already destroyed many of the city's centuries-old shrines, the legacy of Timbuktu's golden age of intellectual and spiritual development.

Islamist fighters had considered the texts and the shrines -- which helped earn the city UNESCO world heritage status -- to be idolatrous.

The Bibliotheque Nationale on Friday offered help in assessing damage, providing materials for reconditioning and restoration and assisting in the work of conserving and restoring damaged documents.

The library said it would also support work that was already under way to digitise the manuscripts.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130201/paris-offers-help-restore-precious-timbuktu-documents