CAIRO – Egyptian antiquities authorities have returned to Iraq an ancient bronze statue dating back to the days of early Mesopotamia that was looted from Iraq and smuggled across the Egyptian border in 2005.
The statue of a standing woman was officially returned to the chargé d'affaires of the Iraqi embassy Abdel-Hadi Ahmed at a ceremony held in the Egyptian Museum in the heart of Cairo.
At a press conference, Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities Dr Zahi Hawass described the statue's journey from Baghdad to Cairo. He explained that it was smuggled by an Egyptian working in Jordan who was arrested in the Egyptian port of Nuweiba in the Sinai Peninsula where he was questioned about the true origins of the artefact. An antiquities commission examined the statue and verified its authenticity as a Mesopotamian antiquity. According to Hawass, the smuggler is now facing three to five years in prison.
Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the looting of artefacts and antiquities, a phenomenon that dealt a severe blow to the rich cultural heritage of the country, was a major problem facing security forces.
According to UNESCO 3,000 to 7,000 archaeological pieces are still missing, of which 40-50 are of special historical significance.
Hawass is a strong advocate of returning antiquities that have special historical and cultural significance to their countries of origin. He has campaigned tirelessly for the recovery of stolen Egyptian antiquities and also issued instructions to his office to track down stolen Iraqi antiquities, 5,000 of which have been returned.
Iraqi chargé d'affaires Ahmed also delivered good news as he told reporters that about 24,000 stolen antiquities have been returned to Iraq since July 2008.
[The Associated Press, Xinhua]