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Last Updated: Monday, 24 December 2007, 14:36 GMT
Police hunt stolen Vishnu statues
Statue of the Hindu God, Vishnu
The government fears the statues might be smuggled to India
Police in Bangladesh are searching for two statues of the Hindu god Vishnu which were stolen from Dhaka airport.

The statues were to be flown to Paris with other artefacts for an art exhibition at the Guimet Museum when they went missing on Saturday night.

Dhaka police say they are questioning 12 people they have detained in connection with the theft.

The statues, valued at about $65,000, were among a number of artefacts sent to France by the Bangladesh government.

"These are masterpieces and very valuable to our cultural heritage," Shamsuzzaman Khan, a former head of the Bangladesh National Museum, told the Associated Press news agency.

"The government should not have agreed to send them abroad."

Fears

The two terracotta statues were sculpted about 1,500 years ago.

Ayub Quadri
Ultimately we at the ministry have to take responsibility
Ayub Quadri, culture ministry adviser

Vishnu is the second god in the Hindu triumvirate, which consists of three gods responsible for the creation, upkeep and destruction of the world.

The other two gods are Brahma and Shiva. Hinduism is a minority faith in Bangladesh, which is overwhelmingly Muslim.

The government's cultural affairs adviser, Ayub Quadri, told the BBC he was thinking of resigning over the issue.

"Ultimately we at the ministry have to take responsibility," he said.

Mr Quadri said the government had stepped up security measures on the border with India, after reports the stolen objects could be smuggled out of the country.

The French embassy in Dhaka condemned the theft.

"It is obviously an important loss and we have no doubt that fast, decisive and efficient measures will lead to finding the criminals," charge d'affaires Jean Romnicianu told Reuters news agency.

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