U.S. PROTECTS ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES IN MALI

Washington, D.C. -- Penn Kemble, Deputy Director of the United States Information Agency (USIA), yesterday presented Alpha Oumar Konare, President of the Republic of Mali, with the new bilateral cultural property agreement signed in September by the United States and Mali. This agreement represents the ongoing effort by the United States to implement the 1970 UNESCO Convention, to which both countries are parties. The Convention establishes a framework for international cooperation restricting the unauthorized movement of cultural objects across international borders. Under the Convention, the United States has determined that the cultural heritage of Mali is in jeopardy from the pillage of archaeological sites in the region of the Niger River Valley and will continue to restrict the importation of material from this region. U.S. import restrictions were first imposed in September 1993 as an interim emergency measure. Material designated as restricted may be imported if accompanied by an export certificate issued by the Government of the Republic of Mali.

Presentation of the agreement was made by Mr. Kemble at an event hosted by the Smithsonian Institution in honor of President Konare, who is on an official visit to the United States and met with President Clinton earlier in the day. An archaeologist by training and former museum professional, President Konare served as president of the International Council of Museums for several years before becoming the first democratically elected president of Mali.

Sites in the region of the Niger River Valley represent a continuum of civilizations from the Neolithic period to the colonial occupation, lending archaeological significance to the region. The material from these sites includes terracotta figures as well as copper, bronze and iron figurines. Also included in the import restriction is material from the Tellem burial caves of the Bandiagara Cliffs in the Niger River region.

Mali is the first and only African country to request and receive this form of protection from the U.S. In submitting its request, the Government of Mali stated that "the pillage and illicit traffic of cultural property of Malian patrimony continue with an intensity that constitutes a serious menace to an understanding of entire chapters of the history of Mali." Mali's request was submitted under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. The new bilateral accord commends Mali for internal steps it is taking in law enforcement and especially in education. The U.S. notes the success of Cultural Missions created and dispatched by the National Museum of Mali as part of an ongoing public awareness campaign at important sites such as Djenne, Timbuktu and Bandiagara. There is encouraging evidence that these missions are succeeding in inculcating local populations with the understanding that they are the stewards of these sites, which represent the heritage of future generations of Malians.

Mr. Kemble emphasized in his remarks that "these grassroots public education initiatives are a clear sign that democratization promotes innovative, less-centralized approaches to the protection of cultural heritage."

As a major destination for cultural objects from all parts of the world, the United States recognizes that it has a responsibility in reducing the incentive for pillage of cultural artifacts. Such pillage causes the irretrievable loss of important information about the heritage of mankind. The long-term purpose of this import restriction, therefore, is to protect the heritage of the people of Mali and to promote broader and legal access to this heritage through cultural, educational and scientific means, thereby underscoring its universal importance.

Recommendations for U.S. action under the 1970 UNESCO Convention are developed by the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, which is composed of individuals appointed by the President of the United States. The Committee, administered by USIA, is chaired by Dr. Martin E. Sullivan, Director, The Heard Museum, Phoenix.

Release No. 85-97
CONTACT: Paul Kreutzer
PHONE: (202) 619-6144
E-MAIL: pkreutze@usia.gov

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