ROME — Italian soldiers and antiquity experts alike will help lead a new dedicated UN peacekeeping force designed to protect and restore the world's cultural monuments exposed to war and other conflicts.
Italian daily Corriere della Sera reports that the taskforce, the first of its kind, will be composed of 30 Italian paramilitary troops and 30 art historians, researchers and restorers hailing from renowned cultural institutes in Florence and other cities.
Still, the new force — named "Unite for Heritage" — will not deploy to combat zones such as Palmyra, Syria to prevent them from being destroyed by groups like the Islamic State (ISIS). Instead the force could be sent to places suffering grave environmental or political crises, such as post-earthquake Nepal or peaceful post-conflict countries, to help assess the damage to heritage sites and aid the countries in rebuilding.
Last week at Rome's historic Baths of Diocletian, the Italian government and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) jointly launched the new cultural peacekeeping force. Several high-ranking Italian ministers joined UNESCO director Irina Bokova for the landmark announcement, showcasing Italy's role as a cultural leader intent on providing its artistic expertise to the world.
The task force's personnel, provided by the Italian ministries of defense and culture, have undergone specialized training and could soon be deployed to Libya to secure the country's wealth of ancient architecture before they are threatened directly by ISIS.
Italian defense minister Roberta Pinotti told the Turin-based newspaper La Stampa that the Italian paramilitary police, known as carabinieri, have a long history of specialized work in defending heritage sites in war zones.