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Wednesday, September 30, 1998 Published at 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK

World: Europe

French paintings recovered

A TV cameraman films the Monet (left) and Sisley paintings

The curator of the Cheret Museum of Fine Arts in Nice, southern France, has been placed under police investigation in connection with the theft of two valuable paintings of two Impressionists last week.

BBC's Stephen Jessel: "The pictures would fetch enormous sums if offered on the open market"
Two other suspects were also detained.

The paintings, Claude Monet's "Cliffs at Dieppe" from 1897 and Alfred Sisley's "Lane lined with poplars near Moret" from 1890 were stolen last week.

The curator, Jean Forneris, said two gunmen had taken him hostage and forced him to take them to the museum.

There, the suspects overpowered guards and tied up the staff members before fleeing in the curator's car with the paintings.

Police intrigued

The police found inconsistencies in his story and after 24 hours of interrogation he admitted to being involved.

The police released him under supervision, so as not to frighten his accomplishes. The scheme paid off, and on a dawn raid on a boat in a small port near Nice they recovered the pictures, intact and undamaged.

Two men were arrested, both not known previously to the police. One of them was reported to be a friend of the curator.

The BBC correspondent in Paris, Stephen Jessel, says that according to experts the pictures would fetch enormous sums if offered on the open market.

But they were so well known that it would have been impossible to sell them privately.

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