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Bangla statues stolen

Dhaka, Dec. 24 (AP): Thieves brazenly removed two statues from a high-security cargo area at Dhaka’s international airport that were supposed to be flown to France for an exhibition, authorities said today.

The terra-cotta Vishnu statues were stolen from the Zia International Airport late yesterday, according to Ayub Quadri, the government’s cultural affairs adviser. The statues, insured for a total of $64,740, are believed to be about 1,500 years old.

“We have asked police to find the rare objects at any cost,” Quadri said. “We are investigating how the statues were stolen. We are determined to find them.”

The stolen artifacts were among 143 that Bangladesh has agreed to send to France for an exhibition at the Guimet Museum in Paris due to open early next year, officials said. The first consignment of 42 objects was sent to Paris on December 1.

Quadri said the government is tightening controls along the border with India to prevent the statues from being smuggled out of the country.

Police detained 12 airport employees for questioning after the theft, including cargo handlers and airport security staff, Quadri said.

Art lovers had opposed the shipment, fearing the objects might be stolen. Artifacts occasionally disappear from museums in Bangladesh, Shamsuzzaman Khan, a former head of the Bangladesh National Museum, said. Border guards and customs officials often catch people trying to smuggle valuables out of the country.

In a statement in Dhaka, the French embassy labelled the incident “suspicious” and said “it could be the result of a conspiracy to embarrass France and Bangladesh”.

The statues — a bust and a full-length depiction of Vishnu in fired clay — were found at a site in Bogra district, 160 km north of Dhaka.

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