Mali’s embattled interim government ramped up diplomatic efforts Tuesday to save the north from Islamist fighters who have smashed World Heritage shrines in Timbuktu and rigged another city with mines. The post-coup transition authorities in Bamako are powerless in the face of the armed Al Qaeda-allied groups occupying the north, and Mali’s neighbours in west Africa have proposed a stronger unity government be formed. West African leaders will meet in Burkina Faso’s capital on Saturday to discuss this option with senior Malian political figures, as the Islamists escalate efforts to exert their control in the country’s north. In Timbuktu, where they have enforced sharia law for the past three months, Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) have smashed seven tombs of ancient Muslim saints as well as the ‘sacred door’ to a 15th century mosque. The UN cultural agency UNESCO on Tuesday called for an end to the “repugnant acts” of destruction and called for the head of the body to create an emergency fund for the cultural treasures and send a mission to assess the damage. The destruction has deeply upset Malians and prompted outpourings of condemnation from abroad.