Egyptian antiquities supremo Zahi Hawass on Wednesday urged countries attending an international conference on recovering ancient artefacts from abroad to unite to recover their stolen heritage.
"We need to cooperate, we need a unification between our countries," Hawass told antiquities officials, deputy culture ministers and museum directors from 22 countries at the two-day Cairo meeting.
"Every country is fighting alone, every country suffered alone, especially Egypt," Hawass told the delegates from countries that have seen their national heritage looted over the centuries.
"We will battle together," he said, adding that "maybe we will not succeed in a lifetime (but) we have to open the subject."
Hawass, who heads Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), urged delegates to draw up lists of artefacts missing from their countries and displayed in museums abroad.
"This conference shows the importance many countries place in joining forces," said Elena Korka, who is in charge of protecting Greece's cultural heritage.
Korka confirmed that the return of the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum is Greece's top priority. Athens has been locked in a 30-year antiquities "war" with London to retrieve them from the British Museum.
Egypt has been fighting for the Rosetta stone from Britain and a bust of Nefertiti from Germany.
Hawass said that other outstanding claims included against the Hildesheim museum in Germany for a statue of Hemiunu, believed to be the architect of the Great Pyramids of Giza, and a statue of Ramses II from the city of Turin in Italy.
Italy is represented at the conference, but countries like France, Germany or Britain have regularly given Egypt the cold shoulder over its claims of Pharaonic antiquities.
Egypt also hopes to recover the zodiac of Denderah, held by the Louvre museum in Paris, as well as the Pharaonic bust of Ankhaf that is owned by the Fine Arts Museum of Boston.
Greece was to chair a conference session devoted to examining "problems faced by countries in attempts to recover their antiquities."
A major aim of the conference is to call on the United Nations cultural body UNESCO to amend a 1970 convention banning the export or ownership of stolen antiquities acquired after that date.
The convention prohibits the illicit import, export and sale of cultural property, but stipulates there will be no "retroactive" measure for artefacts acquired before the convention was signed.
Since becoming head of antiquities in 2002, Hawass has helped Egypt reclaim 31,000 relics from abroad. Last year he insisted that "what has been stolen from us must be returned."
But he is still eyeing 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.
Germany has repeatedly rebuffed Egyptian claims to the rightful ownership of the Nefertiti bust and says the priceless sculpture was acquired legally nearly a century ago. Egypt says it was spirited out of the country.
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.
Hawass stressed that the countries were not reclaiming all antiquities, only those proven to have been taken illegally, and artefacts of great historical value for the country's from where they were taken.
He praised the United States as the "first country for the restoration of ancient artefacts," after it recently returned a Pharaonic sarcophagus that was illegally taken more than 125 years ago.
Twenty-two countries are attending the conference, five more than initially announced.
Austria, Chile, China, Cyprus, Ecuador, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Italy, Libya, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Syria, the United States are present in addition to Egypt, the majority represented by senior culture and antiquities officials.
Source: AFP, 07.04.2010