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Last Updated: Friday, 24 October, 2003, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
Stolen mask returned to Nepal
Navin Singh Khadka
BBC correspondent in Kathmandu

Dipankar Buddha mask
The Dipankar Buddha mask on its return to Nepal
The Austrian Government has returned to Nepal a 400-year-old mask of Buddha that had found its way to a museum in Vienna.

Made of bronze and copper, the mask disappeared from an office in Lalitpur district, just south of Kathmandu, two years ago.

Three other small statues that were taken with the mask have not yet been found.

The Austrian ambassador to Nepal, Jutta Stefan-Bastl, formally handed over the Dipankar Buddha mask to the Nepalese Government on Friday.

Smuggling problem

Officials said a German citizen had tried to sell the mask to an Austrian ethnography museum for $200,000.

The Dipankar Buddha mask
The mask is used in rituals by the local community (Photo: Nepali Times)

Museum officials then checked with Austrian and Nepalese Buddhism experts.

Photographs and police reports helped confirm the identity of the stolen object.

The one-metre-tall Dipankar Buddha mask is still used for rituals in the local Newar community in Lalitpur district.

Such objects of religious and historical importance are also occasionally put on display.

They are usually kept under close guard by the community.

However, many historical statues, mostly of gods and goddesses, have reportedly been smuggled out of Nepal.

Archaeology department officials say they are aware of some of the thefts.

But they admit they have no inventory of existing historical items in the country or those smuggled out.

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