Libyans are being warned to guard against looting of their cultural heritage amid the country’s turmoil.
The director of the UN cultural agency is also cautioning the international art and antiquities trade to be “particularly wary of objects from Libya in the present circumstances” because they might be stolen.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in a statement that she contacted authorities in Libya and neighbouring countries to urge them “to protect Libya’s invaluable cultural heritage.”
She warned that past conflicts have led to looting and damage to artefacts and archaeological treasures.
With thanks to Larry Rothfield's blog for highlighting the relevant paragraph.
The opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) said on Tuesday that guards from a specially trained Tripoli brigade, made up of fighters from the capital, were being stationed at the national museum as well as other key cultural sites.
Parts of Libya's cultural heritage have been threatened before: in the 1950s, two British soldiers stationed in the country when it was a British protectorate took a selection of ancient relics back to the UK. The items, some of which were up to 2,500 years old, included the bronze prow of a Greek ship found during a diving excursion off the coast of Benghazi. They were returned last year as part of an ongoing Libyan effort to secure the return of its treasures, many of which were removed during the colonial era.
The problem persists to the present day. Libya's wealth of important historic sites has long been one of its key appeals to tourists, but museum officials say that government underfunding has meant their relics have lacked adequate security.
In 2006, the BBC reported that Tripoli Museum had no security cameras: as a result, at least 90 important pieces had been stolen since 1988 – a figure probably far higher in reality.
Archaeological dig sites were also said to be at risk because of underpaid and untrained guards. The government, for its part, blamed failures on the museums.
Libya is by no means alone in the problems it faces in securing its heritage in the aftermath of conflict. Egyptian treasures were looted during the widespread unrest before and after President Mubarak was forced from power.