Some time around the middle of April, in an area of the Libyan Sahara on the Algerian frontier known as Tadrart Acacus, seven cave paintings from the Neolithic era, dating back to a period between 3,000 and 10,000 years ago, were vandalised with tins of spray paint. The caves were declared UNESCO world heritage sites more than twenty years ago. The crime was committed by a former tourist guide, a Tunisian citizen whose identity has not been revealed since he was arrested by local police on April 24. The only news to have leaked out from TripolI's Department of Archaeology is that the man is of Libyan origin and had recently been fired by the Italian tourist agency 'Dar Sahara', which has been present in the area for many years, serving the interests of lovers of the desert and cave-painting enthusiasts. ''The red, black and white graffiti written in spray paint consists of abuse addressed to the Libyan government and against Italians'', says Juma Anag, the head of the Department of Archaeology. A mission from the department, together with colleagues from the Italo-Libyan Archaeological Mission from Rome's La Sapienza University, under Professor Savino di Lernia, will be visiting the sites over the coming days to assess the extent of the damage. According to Seif Al Islam Al Gheddafi, a passionate archaeologist and president of the charitable foundation which bears his father's name, the formation of a special commission of archaeologists, security experts and frontier tourist police is already in hand with the objective of affording the country's archaeological sites, especially those in the remote desert, an efficient system of protection as soon as possible. ''The paintings - and the graffiti - are in fact easily accessible to anyone who provides themselves with a simple desert pass'', comes the complaint from the head of the Italian archaeological mission to Acacus, Savino di Lernia, who will himself be on site in Libya to assess the financial and scientific effort involved in cleaning the paintings.
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