France ready to hand back Egyptian murals

PARIS Wed Oct 7, 2009 6:33pm BST

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PARIS (Reuters) - France is ready to hand back five fragments of ancient Egyptian tomb wall paintings acquired by the Louvre museum between 2000 and 2003, Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said on Wednesday.

Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities had asked France to give back the murals and after extensive discussions between the two sides, Mitterrand said he had called a meeting of the French national museum scientific committee for Friday.

Subject to a decision by the committee, he was ready to order the frescoes to be handed back immediately, Mitterrand said in a statement.

Under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) convention of 1970, member countries agreed measures to prevent the illegal export of national treasures.

Mitterrand said the five Egyptian pieces had been acquired in good faith by the Louvre and it was only in 2008, after the discovery of the tomb from which the murals apparently came, that serious doubts were raised about their provenance.

Zahi Hawass, Egypt's chief archaeologist and head of the Supreme Council for Antiquities, was quoted by the official MENA news agency as saying the council had ceased cooperation with the Louvre until the murals were returned.

(Additional reporting by Edmund Blair in Cairo; Writing by James Mackenzie, editing by Paul Casciato)

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