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Tue 29 Nov 2011 07:22 AM

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Gaddafi’s son may have sold artifacts to fund fighting

Libya says will quiz Saif al-Islam over plundered museums, missing artifacts

Gaddafi’s son may have sold artifacts to fund fighting
A picture taken on February 11, 2010 shows Saif al Islam, son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi

Officials
from Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council will question Saif al-Islam Gaddafi,
the presumed heir of the late Libyan leader, in connection with an investigation
into the selling of plundered artifacts by Gaddafi loyalists to fund fighting.

“We
need to ask him about the missing things,” said Ahmed al-Majub, a senior
official in charge of several archeological sites and the town of Bani Walid.
“They are priceless because they are an insight into our history.”

Saif
al-Islam commanded units in Bani Walid after fleeing the capital, Tripoli, at
the end of August. In September, the town’s museum was ransacked by loyalist
forces and “priceless” Roman artifacts disappeared, including 25 bronze coins
and 23 oil lamps, al-Majub said in an interview.

While
Libya’s key monuments, including the Roman cities of Sabratha and Leptis Magna,
were untouched during the eight-month conflict to oust Muammar Gaddafi, many
museums were pillaged, according to Saleh Aga, chairman of the Libyan
Department of Antiquities.

“There
are a lot of cases representing a huge amount of money,” he told reporters in
Tripoli on Nov 26, referring to the alleged thefts by Gaddafi loyalists. “They
want to use the sale to fund their aggressive struggle.”

Convoys
of cars carrying Gaddafi supporters crossed the border into Niger and Algeria
during the fighting. Among them was another of his sons, Saadi, whose
extradition is being sought by the NTC.

It’s
impossible to know how much treasure was looted as cataloguing was incomplete
during the Gaddafi era, Aga said.

Seventeen
carved stone heads, most the size of a fist and believed to date from Roman
times, and terracotta items found in a sack in a loyalist vehicle intercepted
by NTC fighters in August, were among items displayed during the news
conference.

Aga
said his department has no idea of the value of the heads or their origin and
is in contact with the United Nations cultural agency Unesco for assistance.
The Libyan authorities will soon forward information on the stolen objects to
Interpol, the international police organization, he said.

Other
artifacts known to have been plundered include several thousand coins reported
by the NTC in February to have been stolen from a museum in Benghazi, where
thieves broke into the building by drilling through the roof.

Carthaginians,
Greeks, Romans and Ottomans all occupied parts of Libya, leaving behind a rich
legacy in coastal sites and along historic caravan routes, much of which has
still to be properly explored, said al-Majub.

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