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UNESCO praises Syria''s protection of museums from looting

NEW YORK, Feb 6 (KUNA) -- Despite Syria's stalling on the political, humanitarian, and other fronts, a UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) official has hailed Damascus for protecting the cultural artifacts of 34 museums from looting.
Damascus' protection of cultural artifacts is the "only piece of good news" in safeguarding the heritage of the country during the three-year conflict, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture Francesco Bandarin told a news conference, late on Wednesday.
He explained that the Syrian Government moved the majority of the 34 national museums' contents into safe havens, warning, however, that the country's archeological sites continue to be illegally excavated for more cultural artifacts to be sold overseas for huge profit.
"The damage to museums is less important than it would have been otherwise because of this preventive action, which of course we praise and consider very, very important," he said.
He admitted that no one from UNESCO has been able to verify that the National Directorate of Antiquities and Museums in Syria (DGAM) transported the contents, nor speak of their current state or safety, but a presentation by DGAM Director Maamoun Abdel-Karim in Paris last summer was "convincing enough." He said UNESCO has launched a three-prong project, funded by 2.5 million Euros from the European Union, to create a database of Syrian works; to fight illicit trafficking with support from INTERPOL, local police, and customs officials; and to raise awareness of the cultural artifacts and the dangers of their trafficking among the local and international communities.
He said Lebanon is the number one country traffickers would smuggle the artifacts to.
Bandarin expressed hope that the new film 'The Monuments Men,' which deals with attempts to save paintings and other cultural artifacts from destruction and looting during World War II and scheduled to open in theatres this Friday will bring the issue to the forefront.
"Sometimes Hollywood is more powerful than all the UN put together in raising this attention," he said.
In a related matter, UNESCO also announced on Wednesday the completion of an emergency Mission to launch rehabilitation of the Islamic Arts Museum of Cairo after a blast on January 24 brought down walls of buildings housing both the Museum and the National Library at Bab el Khalq.
The Paris-based Agency said that "despite the shocking first impressions of destruction inside and outside the building, the Mission recorded that the structural stability of the building seems not to have been endangered," and as for the Archive Museum of the National Library at Bab el Khalq, "most of the damage can be quite easily cleaned and restored," warning however that this will take "many months of work."(end) sj.wsa KUNA 061050 Feb 14NNNN