Postcard from... Laas Geel


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The Independent Online

One of the world’s most vibrant examples of ancient rock art is being denied the benefits of international protection because no one recognises the self-declared Republic of Somaliland where it is located.

The rocky outcrop of Laas Geel contains some of the best-preserved rock paintings in Africa, some believed to be up to 5,000 years old. The caves and overhangs are covered with brightly coloured representations of animals and herdsmen.

Locals always knew of the place but avoided what was believed to be the haunt of demons and evil spirits. The site was unknown to the outside world until a team of French archaeologists came across it in 2002.

Authorities have done their best to secure an area which, anywhere else in the world, would be a major tourist draw.

The rare intrepid travellers who make it to Laas Geel have to be accompanied by armed police and must leave before sundown when a tribe of baboons returns to sleep there.

The government in Hargeisa wants international assistance to preserve the site, but Somaliland is still regarded internationally as part of Somalia, from which it broke away in 1991. Somalia has yet to sign the UNESCO World Heritage Treaty, so the UN  is unable to protect Laas Geel.