China's Tianshan among new Unesco World Heritage sites
Unesco status for mountains in Tajikistan and China, Italy's Etna volcano and Indian forts
Agence France-Presse in Phnom Penh
Italy's Mount Etna, the Hill Forts of Rajasthan and China's Tianshan mountain range were among seven natural wonders and cultural jewels granted World Heritage status by Unesco at its annual meeting yesterday.
Other entrants into the coveted list include the Mountains of the Pamirs in Tajikistan and the Namib Sand Sea in southwest Africa.
Conservationists hailed the move.
"From vast deserts in Namibia and Mexico to high mountain ranges in China and Tajikistan and a volcano in Italy, the new World Heritage Sites are a celebration of the beauty of nature and our joint commitment to conserve it for generations to come," said Tim Badman of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
China nominated four areas of the Tianshan range, totalling more than 600,00 hectares, as a world natural heritage in 2010. The newly declared world heritage site contains spectacular snow-capped mountains and glacier-capped peaks, undisturbed forests and meadows, clear rivers and lakes and canyons, and is home to the endangered snow leopard.
Huang Wei, vice-chairman of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, said China was looking forward to strengthening co-operation with Unesco and the IUCN to explore the potential for the site.
The tallest active volcano in Europe at 3,300 metres, Mount Etna has been written about for 2,700 years and has "one of the world's longest documented records of historical volcanism", Unesco said. "The diverse and accessible assemblage of volcanic features such as summit craters, cinder cones, lava flows, lava caves and the Valle de Bove depression have made Mount Etna a prime destination for research and education," it said.
The volcano, in the eastern part of Sicily, is one of the most-studied in the world and "continues to influence volcanology, geophysics and other earth science disciplines", it said.
According to local legend, on Etna there is a sweet chestnut tree said to have once sheltered hundreds of horsemen during a storm. The Kingdom of Sicily issued an act of "public protection" for the tree in 1745 - one of the world's first recorded environmental protection actions.
Unesco inscribed the Namib Sand Sea in Namibia, Africa, as "the world's only coastal desert that includes extensive dune fields influenced by fog", to the World Heritage list.
"It is an outstanding example of the scenic, geomorphological, ecological and evolutionary consequences of wind-driven processes interacting with geology and biology," Unesco said, highlighting the richness of flora and fauna in the desert area.
The six hill forts in northwestern India were hailed as "the most authentic, best conserved and most representative sites of Rajput military architecture of the Rajasthan region".
Other sites to win World Heritage status included the El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve in Mexico thanks to their "dramatic combination of desert landforms, comprising both volcanic and dune systems as dominant features".
Unesco also inscribed 16 wooden tserkvas (churches) in the Carpathian mountains of Poland and Ukraine.
Unesco is holding a 10-day meeting in Phnom Penh where it is considering whether to add 31 sites to the 962-strong World Heritage List of sites.
Additional reporting by Xinhua