UN alerts Libya to protect artifacts

The cultural arm of the UN has alerted Libya to guard against the looting of its artifacts and warned international art dealers to be on the lookout for such items stolen during the country's uprising.

Art dealers to be wary of anything from the region during this time

Leptis Magna, an ancient Roman city located in the Libyan coastal city of Lebda, is listed as one of Libya's five World Heritage sites by UNESCO. The UN body is warning Libyans to guard their artifacts due to the social unrest. (Joseph Eid/Getty)

The cultural arm of the UN has alerted Libya to guard against the looting of its artifacts and warned international art dealers to be on the lookout for such items stolen during the country's uprising. 

The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, sent out the warning in a release  Friday that urged Libyans and art dealers to protect the country's "invaluable cultural heritage."

"The heritage of a nation is essential to the ability of its citizens to preserve their identity and self-esteem, to profit from their diversity and their history and build themselves a better future," Bokova said.

Libya has five World Heritage sites classified by the UNESCO - including the Hellenistic city of Cyrene and the Roman city of Leptis Magna.

Bokova informed art dealers and anyone in the antiquities trade to be "particularly wary of objects from Libya in the present circumstances" because zones of conflict often see looting and the damage of artifacts.

"Experience shows that there is a serious danger of destruction during times of social upheaval," she said, "It has taught us to look out for looting by unscrupulous individuals, that often damages the integrity of artifacts and of archaeological sites."

There is a large responsibility of the international art trade during times of social unrest, she added.

"Careless dealers who buy these objects and fragments are in fact inciting more looting," Bokova said.

Past looting

In January, Egypt's antiquities chief Zahi Hawass said he was concerned about his country's most valuable artifacts. Amidst the protests and demonstrations that eventually led to Hosni Mubarak stepping down from the presidency, looters broke into Cairo's Egyptian Museum and damaged several objects, including two mummies.

Iraq reclaimed and welcomed back several artifacts in June 2008 after they had gone missing from the country's National Museum during the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

There was a worldwide campaign to recover such stolen items after many were found in Syria, the U.S., Italy and the U.K among other places.

Archeological objects in Afghanistan have also been the target of looters during the conflict there. The illegal sale of many artifacts were said to be financing warlords and others were destroyed by the Taliban who viewed them as forms of idolatry.