Yemen calls on Interpol to return unique smuggled artifact [Archives:2008/1162/Front Page]

May 9 2008

Hamed Thabet
SANA'A, June 8 ) The Yemeni government requested Monday that the International Police (Interpol) find an ancient bronze statue that was smuggled out of the country.

The General Authority for Antiques and Museums in Sana'a said that the ancient statue was taken to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) “by professional smugglers.” He added that the statue was registered under the number 619.

Hesham Al-Thowr, the general manager for antique pieces in the authority, described the statue as “a unique [artifact] and extremely rare, as nothing like it has been found in Yemen before.” The statue, which depicts a female dancer leaning on a rectangular base with an inscription in the mosnid (Himyari) language, dates back to 3 B.C., during the Himyarite period.

Al-Thowr asked Interpol, different organizations and anyone who finds the statue to return it to Yemen, as it is historically valuable to the country.

“We cannot study the statue properly to gain further information about it because we do not have it, and this will certainly lead to many missing links about ancient Yemeni history,” Al-Thowr said.

According to the authority, the statue was found five years ago by a local Yemeni named Saleh Al-Baqari from Al-Jawf governorate, while he was digging at night at a historical site.

Although negotiations were made by the General Authority for Antiques and Museums in Sana'a to get the statue, Al-Baqari sold it in 2007 to a Yemeni trader called Basalama Ali Basalama in Sana'a for YR 20 Million.

Basalama then sold the statue to a person from the UAE and sent it to him by smugglers through the desert. However, he is now in jail under investigation.

“The sad thing is that Al-Baqari is still free e is wanted by the security, and they are trying to catch him but with no success so far,” Al-Thowr added.

The incident is not the first time that antiques were exposed to locals' looting and smuggling

“Everyday there are complaints from the governorates of Al-Jawf, Marib, and Shabwa that people smuggled antiques there and no one can stop them. Every night locals start to dig in all the ancient sites and take whatever they can and sell it outside the country,” said Al-Thowr.

“Locals in these places are like mice, and the problem is that we cannot do anything to stop and control them at all. The military and the security must find a solution to stop this phenomenon as soon as possible,” Al-Thowr added.

Abdulaziz Al-Jindari, the Director of the National Museum in Sana'a, said, “Smuggling of this sort is due to a lack of coordination between the concerned authorities and locals to help people care for the fields and keep historical places from being destroyed.”

Yemen's cooperation with Interpol

Over the last five years, Interpol has helped Yemen to retrieve many Yemeni antiques smuggled to Oman, London, the United States and Saudi Arabia. For example, a statue called “Dhat Hamim” was stolen from the Aden Museum in the 1994 civil war, which Interpol took back from the U.S. and returned to Yemen.

Additionally, ancient Islamic graves known as shawahed, which were smuggled to London, were found and given back to Yemen with the help of Interpol, said Al-Thowr.

Hundreds of antiques have been smuggled to other countries, many smuggled through Sana'a International Airport, officials say. Thousands of archeological pieces stolen from museums or sites were seized and returned to Yemen, but officials said that the exact number of smuggled valuables is not known.

Sana'a University lecturer Mohamed Al-Aroosi, former President of the Yemeni General Organization of Antiques and Museum, stated that Yemeni law does not have strict sentences for those who smuggle antiques and sell them to other countries, which encourages them to continue smuggling without fear of the government.