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Italy to return ancient statue to Libya

Italy decided to return to Libya an ancient Roma statue taken from the colony. There is a hope that this step will help its own campaign to retrieve allegedly looted antiquities from museums worldwide.

The statue of the goddess Venus was brought to Italy after it was found in 1913 by Italian troops near the ruins of the Greek and Roman settlement of Cyrene, on the Libyan coast, the Culture Ministry said Tuesday.

A date for the 2nd-century statue's return has yet to be set, ministry officials said. The statue is now housed in Rome's National Roman Museum.

The headless marble figure of the goddess of love is a copy of a Greek statue that has never been found, said Silvana Rizzo, an archaeologist at the ministry.

"When we talk about Roman copies of Hellenistic statues we are talking about very important works, because most of the time they are the only traces of the original works that were later destroyed," she said.

Libyan authorities requested the statue in 1989, but the process was slowed down by a protracted judicial battle initiated by a group that considered the work part of Italy's cultural heritage. Last week, an administrative court ruled in favor of returning the statue to Tripoli, the ministry said in a statement.

The ruling constitutes "a useful precedent to promote the return, in favor of Italy, of antiquities that were looted by other states," the statement said.

Italy is aggressively campaigning to recover antiquities it says were smuggled out of the country and sold to museums worldwide. It also has made some restitution to countries that had their own treasures looted by Italians.

In 2005, Rome returned to Ethiopia the 1,700-year-old Axum obelisk taken in 1937 on the orders of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts have agreed to return antiquities to Italy, but negotiations with the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles have been stalled for months.

Italy has placed former Getty curator Marion True and art dealer Robert Hecht on trial in Rome for allegedly knowingly receiving dozens of archaeological treasures that were stolen from private collections or dug up illicitly. The two Americans deny wrongdoing.

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