ALGIERS: Algeria on Monday condemned the destruction of ancient Muslim shrines in Timbuktu in neighboring Mali by Islamist militants, as Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci held talks with his Malian counterpart Sadio Lamine Sow in Algiers.
"Algeria believes these tombs constitute a homage and a recognition by the local people to the saints and scholars who contributed to the flourishing of Islam in the region and to the spread of the values of tolerance and spirituality," the foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the official APS news agency.
Hardline Islamist rebel group Ansar Dine, who seized control of northern Mali three months ago, smashed seven tombs of ancient Muslim saints in the fabled northern city of Timbuktu over the weekend, considering the shrines to be idolatrous.
Mali's government and the international community have expressed horror and outrage at the destruction of cultural treasures in the fabled city, an ancient desert crossroads and centre of learning known as the "City of 333 Saints".
The top Algerian and Malian diplomats said they wanted to focus on diplomacy in resolving Mali's political crisis, according to APS.
After their meeting the two ministers emphasized "a convergence of views on the need to privilege a political solution that preserves Mali's national unity and territorial integrity," the news agency reported.
They also highlighted the efforts of the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the countries in the region, including Niger and Mauritania, to find a solution to the political crisis in Mali.
Lamine Sow arrived in Algiers on Sunday to discuss with top Algerian officials the situation in his country, which in a matter of months has gone from one of west Africa's stable democracies to a nation gripped by deadly chaos.
A military coup on March 22 in Bamako eased the way for Tuareg separatist rebels -- descendants of those who founded Timbuktu in the fifth century -- to carry out the armed takeover of an area larger than France they consider their homeland.
However the previously unknown Ansar Dine group fighting on their flanks seized the upper hand, openly allied with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and have since pushed the Tuareg from all positions of power.