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Reuters/Aziz Taher
To serve and protect.

The UN is sending squads of elite troops to defend world heritage sites

By Aamna Mohdin

Following the destruction of world heritage sites in Syria and Iraq by ISIL, including the ancient city of Palmyra, UNESCO has vowed to take decisive action. The UN agency that looks after the world’s heritage has approved Italy’s proposal to send peacekeepers to defend protected sites globally against further attacks by Islamist militants.

Dario Franceschini, Italy’s cultural heritage minister, announced that 53 countries voted in favor of the proposal, AFP reports. The proposal would send peacekeepers, known by their distinctive blue helmets, to important sites at risk from terrorist attacks, natural disasters, or war. The so-called “Cultural Blue Helmets” would be tasked with defending these sites before they are destroyed.

The UN has yet to outline the operational aspects of this task force, but Franceschini suggests they could learn from Italy’s cultural and heritage police, “who carry out training missions around the world.”

Franceschini wants these peacekeepers to follow the “The Monuments Men model,” according to The Telegraph. The film, starring George Clooney and Matt Damon, tells the true story of a Second World War platoon tasked with finding and saving culturally important treasures across Europe from the Nazis.

UNESCO has previously condemned ISIL’s attacks on cultural heritage sites, which includes the Mosque of the Prophet Yunus and the destruction of artifacts in Mosul Museum. ISIL, also known as the Islamic State, has also been accused of committing war crimes against 10 religious and historic monuments in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Timbuktu in Mali.