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UNESCO to send experts to Iraq to compile data on looted antiquities

UNESCO to send experts to Iraq to compile data on looted antiquities

UNESCO head Koïchiro Matsuura
Striving to recover priceless antiquities looted from Iraq's museums, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced today that it was sending an expert team to Baghdad to help establish a database and prevent international trafficking in the stolen artefacts.

In a message read to a meeting of international experts in London, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said a database combining all archives, lists and inventories relating to Iraq's heritage was essential to enable customs and police authorities as well as dealers to identify the status of particular objects.

"That is why I am about to send, in the days ahead, a first mission of eight high-level experts in order to make a preliminary assessment of the situation and identify immediate actions to be taken so as for UNESCO to ensure the appropriate institutional framework and its coordination role in the safeguarding of cultural heritage in Iraq," he added.

In the message, read out by UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Culture, Mounir Bouchenaki, who co-chaired the meeting with the Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, Mr. Matsuura outlined the measures he had already taken. These included contacts with the international police organization Interpol, the World Customs Organization and the International Confederation of Art Dealers.

He has also asked UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to submit the question of illicit traffic to the Security Council for a resolution to impose a temporary embargo on the acquisition of all Iraqi cultural objects and to call for the return of such goods to Iraq if acquisitions or exports of this kind have already taken place.

The session followed an earlier meeting at UNESCO headquarters in Paris on 17 April in the wake of the looting of major museums, libraries and other Iraqi cultural centres, principally in Baghdad and Mosul, with the loss of antiquities stretching back 7,000 years.

The list of participants included curators of the largest collections of Mesopotamian antiquities outside Iraq from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the Middle East Museum in Berlin, the Louvre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the British Museum.