Apr 3 (GIN) – Fighting in Mali has reached the ancient Islamic city of Timbuktu, a celebrated center of Islamic learning since the 12th century. The conflict has raised fears among the cultural community of the possible destruction of some of the world’s archeological treasures.

This weekend, Timbuktu fell into the hands of the independence-seeking Tuaregs, an indigenous formerly nomadic group seeking to reclaim a vast triangle of desert as its homeland, Azawad.

Their take-over lasted barely 24 hours when a spin-off of the Tuaregs calling themselves Ansar Eddine and seeking an Islamic state in the Sahara, displaced them.

Irina Bokova, director of UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural agency, urged all the warring factions to respect the country’s heritage. “Timbuktu’s outstanding earthen architectural wonders that are the great mosques of Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia, are essential to the preservation of the people of Mali and our universal heritage,” Bokova said.

Mali has been rocked by fighting since a coup by U.S.-trained military officers deposed the president allegedly because he was not doing enough to eliminate the Tuareg fighters.