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Yemen’s treasures threatened by antique raiders

NEW YORK: Archaeology buffs warned on Wednesday that Yemen’s antique treasures are at risk of plunderers and urged collectors to avoid buying anything that might have been looted amid the chaos of the country’s civil war.
The International Council of Museums (ICOM) said several Yemeni sites and museums have already been looted and released a 13-page “Red List” report about it for traders and customs officers at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.
The list features detailed descriptions of bronze daggers, figurines, incense burners, astrolabes, illuminated Arabic manuscripts and other items from Yemen over the past three millennia that are at risk of trafficking.
“A considerable number of sites and museums have been looted and cultural objects from Yemen are today at risk of being illegally trafficked,” France Desmarais, ICOM’s director of programs and partnerships, told Arab News.
“The need for a tool to help protect the cultural heritage of Yemen is more than urgent.”
Cultural relics looted from Yemen, Syria, Libya and other war-torn countries have been discovered in Switzerland and other European nations that have sought to crack down on an illegal trade that helps fund extremists.
ICOM’s watch-lists describe antiques that are “on demand on the art market and are at risk of being looted, stolen or illegally exported.” They aim to persuade traders against buying items that cannot be traced to source.
“Individuals and institutions wishing to acquire cultural objects from Yemen are urged not to acquire objects presented on this list without having thoroughly researched its origin and all the legal documentation,” says the ICOM report.
“In the event of any doubt as to the legality of the transaction, buyers should abstain from acquiring the object.”
In March, G-7 nations — Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Britain, the US and Italy — signed an accord to strengthen global collaboration to protect cultural heritage after the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra and the shrines of Timbuktu in Mali were ravaged.
A Saudi-led coalition is fighting in Yemen on behalf of an internationally backed government against Houthi forces, which controls Sanaa and much of the impoverished country. Three years of war have killed more than 10,000 people and pushed the country to the brink of famine.
Yemen is one of the Middle East’s oldest centers of civilization and has four inscriptions on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites, including the historic parts of Zabid, Sanaa and Shibham. Ten other sites were suggested in 2002 before the civil war erupted.

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