France to hand back Egypt relics during Mubarak visit

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PARIS: France will hand back to Egypt five stolen relics on Monday when President Hosni Mubarak visits Paris, ending a row over the wall fragments sold to the Louvre.

President Nicolas Sarkozy will confirm during his luncheon with Mubarak at the Elysee palace on Monday the decision to return the 3,000-year-old relics from Luxor s Valley of the Kings, aides said Thursday.

There will be no formal ceremony to mark the restitution, said an official, but one of the five painted fragments will be presented to Mubarak during the luncheon.

The other four artifacts will be given to the Egyptian embassy in Paris.

The five small relics were chipped off the wall painting of an ancient Egyptian tomb dating back to the 18th dynasty, centuries before Christ, and are currently in storage at the Louvre museum.

Cairo’s antiquities department, which controls access to all of Egypt’s archeological sites, had in October broken off relations with the Louvre in protest and said ties would be restored once the relics were restored.

The French government defended the Louvre, saying its curators acted in good faith when they purchased the relics in 2000 and 2003.

Doubts about the relics’ origins were only raised in November after archaeologists discovered the tomb with the missing fragments.

Museum curators purchased four of the five fragments in 2000 from the collection of French archeologist Gaston Maspero and a fifth piece was bought in 2003 during a public sale at the Drouot auction house.

Egypt is stepping up demands for the restitution of many relics including the Rosetta Stone on display in the British Museum and the bust of Queen Nefertiti in Berlin’s Neues museum.

“Everything which was stolen from us should be given back, said Zahi Hawass, the current head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, in January. -AFP

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