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Middle East
Egypt hosts antiquities meeting
Gathering in Cairo to chalk out global strategy for bringing back artefacts taken away.
Last Modified: 07 Apr 2010 08:36 GMT
Iraqi officials are seeking to get back antiquities looted from the National Museum in 2003 [EPA]

Antiquities officials from around the world have gathered in Cairo to map out a strategy to bring back artefacts they say have been taken away from their countries and displayed abroad.

Antiquities officials, deputy culture ministers and museum directors from 16 countries are attending the two-day meeting.

Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) said the forum will discuss "the protection and restitution of cultural heritage".

Delegates will also draw up lists of artefact's missing from their countries and displayed in museums abroad, treasures they have been demanding be returned, the SCA said.

The conference will also call on the United Nations cultural body Unesco to amend a convention that bans export or ownership of stolen antiquities acquired after 1970.

The convention deals with the "means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property", but stipulates there will be no "retroactive" measure for artefacts acquired before the convention was signed in 1970.

Retrieving 'loot'

Over the years, Egypt's antiquities supremo Zahi Hawass has made the return of looted Egyptian artefact's the hallmark of his tenure and won many battles to bring home Pharaonic items and other ancient relics.

Thirty countries were invited to attend but only 16 are attending: Bolivia, China, Cyprus, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Iraq, Italy, Libya, Mexico, Nigeria, South Korean, Spain, Sri Lanka and Syria.

Officials from Iraq, whose national museum saw one of the biggest lootings in modern history following the US-led invasion in 2003, will attend the conference.

Hawass is still eyeing the Rosetta stone and the 3,400-year-old bust of Nefertiti [EPA]

Fawzi al-Atroshi, Iraq’s deputy culture minister, told Al Jazeera: "The number of antiquities stolen from the Iraqi national museum in 2003 is estimated at 15,000 pieces. Many of them date back to the third millennium BC.

"We have recovered around 7,000 pieces and we are still chasing the rest in neighbouring countries, Europe, Americas and Israel. The Israelis were interested in antiquities written in Hebrew."

In March, Egypt said it retrieved from Britain some 25,000 ancient artefacts, including a stone axe dating back 200,000 years and pottery from the seventh millennium BC.

Egyptian efforts

But Hawass is still eyeing two high profile objects: the Rosetta stone held by the British Museum for more than 200 years and the 3,400-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti on display at the Neues Museum in Berlin.

The iconic Rosetta stone, which dates back to 196 BC, was found by French forces in Egypt in 1799 and given to the British under a treaty two years later.

As for the Nefertiti bust, Germany has repeatedly rebuffed Egyptian claims to the rightful ownership of it and says the priceless sculpture was acquired legally nearly a century ago. Egypt says it was spirited out of the country.

Last year Egypt broke off relations with the Louvre Museum until France finally returns stolen steles chipped off a wall painting in the ancient tomb in Luxor's Valley of the Kings.

Greece, one of the countries attending the conference, will chair a session devoted to "problems facing the countries in their attempt to retrieve their antiquities," Hawass has said.

Athens has been locked in a 30-year antiquities "war" with London to retrieve the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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