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Louvre could store 'threatened' art works from conflict zones

media The Louvre in Paris REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday said the Louvre could house threatened treasures from Iraq, Syria and other war-torn countries at a secure site in northern France.

The precious items could be placed in safe keeping at a conservation facility due to open in 2019 in Lievin, 200 kilometres (120 miles) north of Paris, he said.

The site, a conservation facility being built by the Louvre, will in large be used to store the museum's own collection -- the Louvre only displays around 35,000 of the 380,000 pieces of artwork it owns at any given time.

But, Hollande said, it will have "another role, sadly linked to the events, dramas and tragedies which may unfold in the world, wherever works of art are in danger because terrorists, because barbarians have decided to destroy them... (especially) in Syria and Iraq."

Hollande said France will make the proposal at a December conference in Abu Dhabi on endangered heritage. Representatives from around 40 countries are expected to take part.

“It’s unfortunate that we find ourselves in this cultural crisis, but given the extent of the destruction and the looting that’s taking place, I think an international effort to preserve Syrian culture and heritage is warranted,” Chris Marinello the CEO of the Art Recovery Group based in London, told RFI.

Certain analysts warn of the difficulties in getting this plan to take effect. Cheikhmous Ali, a Syrian Archeologist based France and head of the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology, says one impediment could be getting approval from home countries to bring the items to France.

“There may have to be an agreement signed with Syrian government, for example, which may prove to be difficult, Ali told RFI.

For areas outside of government control, like the Islamic State armed group, Ali also said there would need to be an agreement made between France and UNESCO.

Marinello also noted the risk of France failing to return to objects to the home countries once it is safe to do so again.

“I think the world has learned its lesson from the Parthenon marbles case, but it raises a red flag that we have to be careful of colonialism and the history of colonialism,” said Marinello. “This is a great effort, we want to preserve the culture of these countries, and once able to stand on their own two feet, they should get their objects back.”

President Hollande will reveal the proposal at the Abu Dhabi conference in December. The conference will launch a fund aiming to gather $100 million to help save endangered artwork.

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