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Wednesday, March 24, 1999 Published at 14:05 GMT

World: Middle East

Lebanon recovers ancient treasures

Fifteen years of mayhem left museums empty

By Christopher Hack in Beirut

The Lebanese government has started a campaign to recover antiquities that were stolen and traded during the country's civil war.

More than 5,000 pieces, some dating back to Phoenician and Roman times, have so far been recovered in raids on private homes and warehouses across the country.

During the lawlessness of Lebanon's 15-year civil war, much of the rich cultural heritage of the country was looted.

Many items were stolen from museums and historic sites and sold overseas, while others found their way into local private collections.

Now the country's new government says it wants them back.

Authorities have been comparing the contents of national museums with lists of what they should contain.

These range from ancient jewellery to a huge cannon which has disappeared from a Crusader fort.

Incredible haul

Items found in raids on warehouses and people's homes include Phoenician statues, dozens of Roman columns and sarcophagi, and countless mosaics and ornate pots.

Lebanese law dictates that any item more than 300 years old belongs to the state and anyone who owns historic artifact legally is being urged to register them with the Department of Antiquities.

But not everyone is happy with the hunt for stolen treasure.

Some antique dealers say they are being unfairly targeted for holding legitimately purchased items.

But most Lebanese hope the country can return to its pre-war days as a tourist destination.

Those people hope that the return of the missing treasures may be a small step towards the return of the tourists.

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