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Page last updated at 17:32 GMT, Monday, 14 December 2009

France's Louvre museum returns five frescoes to Egypt

One of five frescoed fragments that France is handing over to Egypt, 14 December 2009
The five fragments are from an ancient Egyptian wall painting

France has handed over to Egypt five disputed, frescoed fragments that were held by the Louvre museum in Paris.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy presented one of the slabs, or steles, to his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak, who was on a visit to Paris.

The Egyptians had demanded the return of the Pharaonic fragments and had broken off ties with the Louvre.

They are believed to be from a 3,200-year-old tomb of the cleric, Tetaki, in the Valley of the Kings, near Luxor.

Conferences suspended

The steles, which are each only 15cm (5.9in) wide and 30cm (11.8in) high, were part of the Louvre's reserve collection.

French officials have maintained that the Louvre acquired the steles in good faith.

But Egypt's antiquities department had said the Louvre bought the fragments despite knowing they were stolen in the 1980s.

It broke off ties with the Louvre in October, saying they would only be restored once the fragments were returned.

Several conferences were suspended, as well as archaeological work being carried out by the Louvre south of the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

Mr Sarkozy said on Monday that doubts about the fragments only emerged in November.

"France is particularly committed to fighting the illegal trafficking of works of art," he said in a statement.

Four of the fragments were purchased from the Maspero gallery in France in 2000, while the fifth was acquired at auction in Paris in 2003.

Ancient Egyptian artworks and relics are displayed in many of the world's top museums, but in recent years the Egyptian government has stepped up pressure to repatriate some of them.



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