UNESCO contacts US on visit to Iraq to help recover looted antiquities

UNESCO contacts US on visit to Iraq to help recover looted antiquities

Mr. Matsuura
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is negotiating with the United States on sending an assessment mission to Iraq early next month as part of its efforts to recover the priceless antiquities looted from Baghdad and other museums, the head of the agency said today.

It was essential to establish a database of Iraq's cultural heritage as soon as possible to prevent trafficking in the looted artefacts, some of which dated back over 7,000 years, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura told a news conference at UN Headquarters in New York.

He said the negotiations were taking place at the highest level of the United States Department of State, and also with the occupying power in the field, and UNESCO was awaiting a reply. It was vital to establish the database to indicate what cultural goods should be put on the list of prohibited items for both the import and export ends of the illicit trafficking in Iraqi artefacts.

The database would be distributed to soldiers to help in recovering and protecting the antiquities, Mr. Matsuura added. Beyond Baghdad, he said UNESCO also hoped to visit other important cultural sites including Ashur, Nasara, Hatara, Masur and Basra.

UNESCO has already contacted the international police organization Interpol, the World Customs Organization and the International Confederation of Art Dealers following the looting of major museums, libraries and other Iraqi cultural centres, principally in Baghdad and Mosul.

Mr. Matsuura 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.

UNESCO has hosted two meetings with experts, in London yesterday and in Paris on 17 April, as part of its efforts to recover the looted antiquities.