Libya to curb Antiquities smuggling

By Ali al-Gattani in Shahat for Magharebia News

Libyan authorities, with the help of their international partners, are getting serious about preventing antiquity theft and smuggling.

Workers in the sector just gathered in Shahat to learn about ways to confront the criminal threat to their country’s cultural heritage.

The Libyan Department of Antiquities, in collaboration with the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO), Interpol, and the World Customs Organisation (WCO), organised the 9-day event, which wrapped up on Tuesday (November 26th).

There were panel discussions about the theft of archaeological heritage, how to build international co-operation and implement international laws to reduce these thefts, as well as methods of classifying and archiving artefacts.

The training targeted workers in the Libyan antiquities service.

There were panel discussions about the theft of archaeological heritage, how to build international co-operation and implement international laws to reduce these thefts, as well as methods of classifying and archiving artefacts.

Trainees accompanied by officials from UNESCO visited the archaeological area of Shahat, which was built circa 631 BC by the Greeks. The team also paid a visit to the local museum.

UNESCO Libya contributed to two other similar workshops during this year in the fight againstĀ Libyan antiquities theft, especially after an increase in robberies.

The most famous stolen items were the Quryna treasures, a collection of gold and silver coins, beads, agate necklaces, earrings and bronze statues housed by the commercial bank of Benghazi. They vanished in May 2011.

The protection of such artefacts from theft is a complex process requiring many overlapping organisations in order to combat it, UNESCO official told Magharebia.

“This kind of support, such as oriented training, can be provided by UNESCO. One of the main outcomes of the 1970 Convention was to create awareness among citizens,” she said. “That’s one of those areas where we are willing to co-operate”.

In his turn, Ahmed Faraj, Archaeology Professor at the Omar Mokhtar University, considered that such workshops contribute to raising the awareness of the importance of antiquities.

He objected however to the level of planning saying, “The preparation was bad and I still don’t have an explanation of why the workshop was not advertised and invitations were not sent around.”

“Personally, I heard of it from my friends,” he added.

“Unfortunately, neither the Antiquities Authority nor the Ministry of Culture nor the UNESCO Delegation in Libya announced the event,” he said.

Sarah Ferjani, an employee in the Department of Museums monitoring antiquities in Benghazi, also took part in the workshop with interest.

“In Benghazi we are suffering from lack of security since the work site and the stores are in an unsafe area (Souk Arrabia) – this of course without minimising the role of tourist security forces,” she noted.

Ferjani added, “I have always said to the head of the department, why don’t you have a group trained by the security forces that can become competent in the protection of sites and artefacts in museums and stores?”

“The workshop played a very important role, especially in these times. Holding this session is a solution to the problems existing in historic cities, the lack of security, and the lack of awareness among the community,” she told Magharebia.