Italy is creating a UN peacekeeping force to prevent the destruction of world heritage sites as well as the trafficking of plundered treasures.

Italy's art preservation team at work.
Italy's art preservation team at work. (TRT World and Agencies)

Italy has launched a version of the UN peacekeeping force, but with a mission to preserve art. Nicknamed the Blue Helmets of Culture, the team is dedicated to protecting and salvaging historic artworks and monuments around the world.

Months after devastating earthquakes hit central Italy, the rescue work continues. In the rubble of churches, hundreds of works of art are being saved every day.

"We're talking about little candelabras, reliquaries, statues. And there are a lot…we have saved at least 5,000 works of art in the last two weeks. We're talking about big numbers," said Captain Paolo Montorsi, Art Police Chief.

A deal between Italy and UNESCO will see the task force deployed worldwide to salvage heritage sites devastated by conflict or natural disasters.

Their first mission abroad is expected to be Syria's ancient city of Palmyra.

TRT World's Christine Pirovolakis has more.

G7 & UN initiative

The G7 group of nations committed on Friday to creating the force.

Destroying antiquities at heritage sites like the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra and the shrines of Timbuktu in Mali has increasingly become a tactic of war for groups like Daesh, both to feed propaganda and profit from smuggling, the UN says.

The G7 nations Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Britain, the United States and Italy signed an accord in the Italian city of Florence, cradle of the Renaissance, to strengthen international collaboration to protect cultural heritage.

Armed UN peacekeepers deployed in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Syria are commonly known as "Blue Helmets."

Italy Blue Helmets of Culture will work in areas where the UN has humanitarian operations. The culture ministry said Friday's accord included a commitment to enable restorers and art experts to join missions in conflict zones.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies