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Support for federal heritage role

Archeologists have welcomed a proposed federal law to protect the country's fragile historical sites.

Archeologists have welcomed a proposed federal law to protect the country's fragile historical sites. The National Council for Tourism and Antiquities (NCTA), the first federally mandated tourism body, announced it was drafting a law to protect the nation's cultural heritage, according to the state news agency WAM. Each emirate manages its own archaeological, historical and tourism authorities. The NCTA said it would conduct excavations, protect sites and improve co-operation between governmental authorities.

The federal council said it would be better able to manage relationships with international tourism authorities, such as the UN World Tourism Organisation and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, better known as Unesco. Mark Beech, the cultural landscapes manager in the Historic Environment department at the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, said the law would be welcomed by archeologists and researchers.

"The important thing is protecting not just individual sites, but protecting cultural areas," he said. Several historically significant sites were under threat by the development of marinas and hotels in Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah, he said. The proposed federal law would recognise two other key sites in the emirate of Abu Dhabi: one in Al Gharbia that is home to eight-million-year-old fossils of animals that once lived in the ancient rivers of the region; and the Bronze-age tomb and settlement at Umm al Nar that is located between a refinery and a military installation and is closed to tourists.

"Protecting them would mean literally putting a fence around it so it couldn't be destroyed," Mr Beech said. A federal body might also be better equipped to pitch for international recognition. Al Ain's historic and well-preserved falaj irrigation system, for example, has been submitted to Unesco for world heritage listing. The NCTA began operations late last year after it was created by Sheikh Khalifa, the President of the UAE, in 2008.

Because each emirate works independently, some tourists do not view the UAE as a comprehensive destination and book trips only to Dubai or Abu Dhabi. The federal body will promote the entire country. The UN World Tourism Organisation expects a moderate recovery in global tourism after two years of decline due to the financial crisis. In the Middle East, tourist arrivals dropped eight per cent in the first eight months of 2009, though the organisation said it expected growth in the region this year.

jgerson@thenational.ae

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