New fund set up to pro­tect en­dan­gered her­itage sites

France pledges $30m to­wards $100m ini­tia­tive

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of around 40 coun­tries yes­ter­day ap­proved plans to es­tab­lish a fund to pro­tect her­itage sites in war zones and a net­work of safe havens for en­dan­gered art­works. A clos­ing state­ment is­sued af­ter two days of talks in Abu Dhabi did not spec­ify the to­tal amount pledged for the fund but French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande said a tar­get of $100 mil­lion re­mained achiev­able. The meet­ing, co-spon­sored by France and the United Arab Emi­rates, was spurred by the sys­tem­atic de­struc­tion and loot­ing of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal trea­sures in Iraq and Syria by the Is­lamic State group.

The world watched in dis­may as the mil­i­tants sys­tem­at­i­cally de­stroyed tem­ples and tower tombs in the an­cient Syr­ian city of Palmyra last year. In Iraq, videos showed IS us­ing bull­doz­ers and ex­plo­sives to de­stroy Nim­rud, a jewel of the Assyr­ian em­pire, and ran­sack­ing pre-Is­lamic trea­sures in the Mo­sul Mu­seum. “This is the first time that coun­tries, or­ga­ni­za­tions, ex­perts and donors have come to­gether to pro­tect the prop­erty of hu­man­ity and to pro­vide the means to achieve it,” said Hol­lande.

But pro­pos­als for an­cient ar­ti­facts to be taken abroad for safe­keep­ing met with reser­va­tions from some coun­tries - no­tably Greece and Egypt - which saw trea­sured art­works re­moved for dis­play in mu­se­ums in Europe and North Amer­ica in the 19th and early 20th cen­turies. Par­tic­i­pants in the meet­ing, who also in­cluded

rep­re­sen­ta­tives of in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions and pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions, pledged “to safeguard the en­dan­gered cul­tural her­itage of all peo­ples, against its de­struc­tion and il­licit traf­fick­ing”.

The Geneva-based fund they set up will be charged with safe­guard­ing cul­tural her­itage en­dan­gered by con­flict, fi­nanc­ing pre­ven­tive and emer­gency op­er­a­tions, com­bat­ing the il­licit traf­fick­ing of ar­ti­facts and help­ing re­store dam­aged cul­tural prop­erty. “The cre­ation of this fund breaks new ground,” UNESCO di­rec­tor Irina Bokova said. “I see this as the start­ing point of some­thing... global.”

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan urged all coun­tries to “co­op­er­ate and co­or­di­nate to con­trol the traf­fick­ing of cul­tural prop­erty .... es­pe­cially in some Arab coun­tries that have suf­fered from the dan­gers of vi­o­lence and ter­ror­ism.” France is to con­trib­ute around $30 mil­lion to the fund. “Our ob­jec­tive is to col­lect at least $100 mil­lion, and we can reach this,” Hol­lande said. Par­tic­i­pants hope the in­ter­na­tional net­work of safe havens will be used to tem­po­rar­ily store cul­tural prop­erty en­dan­gered by con­flicts or ex­trem­ism. Coun­tries such as Bos­nia and Sene­gal of­fered to host en­dan­gered art­works, a del­e­gate told AFP.

But with sovereignty a sen­si­tive is­sue, an­cient ar­ti­facts would only be moved out of a coun­try at the re­quest of its gov­ern­ment, a par­tic­i­pant in the meet­ing told AFP. Works of art would first be moved to a safe place within the coun­try con­cerned. Safe­guard­ing them in a neigh­bor­ing coun­try would be the next op­tion while mov­ing them else­where would be a last re­sort. Greek Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras told par­tic­i­pants it should be the “last op­tion” and there should be “guar­an­tees for the safe re­turn” of cul­tural prop­erty re­moved for safe­keep­ing.

Greece has long sought the re­turn from Bri­tain of an­cient sculp­tures that once dec­o­rated the Parthenon tem­ple on the Acrop­o­lis in Athens but were taken by Bri­tish diplo­mat Lord El­gin two cen­turies ago. Afghan For­eign Min­is­ter Salahud­din Rab­bani said that “es­tab­lish­ing the fund is an ex­cel­lent idea and has our full sup­port but such a fund will only work if peo­ple in coun­tries such as ours have the train­ing and com­mit­ment to work with agen­cies manag­ing the fund.” Par­tic­i­pants at the UNESCO-backed con­fer­ence called on the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to sup­port the ini­tia­tive. The United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion will over­see the safe­guard­ing op­er­a­tions. The meet­ing co­in­cided with an an­nounce­ment by Swiss au­thor­i­ties that they had seized cul­tural relics looted from Syria, Libya and Ye­men that were be­ing stored in Geneva’s free ports. Swiss rep­re­sen­ta­tives told the meet­ing of the coun­try’s ex­pe­ri­ences in pro­vid­ing safe haven for art works dur­ing the con­flicts of the 20th cen­tury. A fol­low up con­fer­ence will be held in 2017 to assess the im­ple­men­ta­tion of plans and the first projects to be fi­nanced by the in­ter­na­tional fund.

The con­fer­ence was the cen­ter­piece of Hol­lande’s two-day visit to the Emi­rates. He ar­rived Fri­day, a day af­ter surprising France by an­nounc­ing he would not seek a sec­ond term as the So­cial­ist can­di­date in next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. France has built in­creas­ingly strong ties to the seven-state Emi­rates fed­er­a­tion over the years. Cul­tural outreach is a key pil­lar of that ef­fort, in­clud­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of a satel­lite cam­pus of the renowned Sor­bonne Univer­sity in Abu Dhabi a decade ago.

Work­ers are still putting the fin­ish­ing touches on a much-hyped branch of the Lou­vre art mu­seum, which will be the cen­ter­piece of an am­bi­tious cul­tural dis­trict on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Is­land. The pro­ject has faced re­peated de­lays that have pushed its open­ing back by years, and it has at­tracted crit­i­cism from hu­man rights cam­paign­ers over the treat­ment of mi­grant work­ers in­volved in its con­struc­tion. It is now ex­pected to open some­time next year.

Hol­lande paid a visit to the Lou­vre site yes­ter­day morn­ing be­fore meet­ing with French ex­pa­tri­ates based in the Emi­rates. He briefly ad­dressed his de­ci­sion to not seek re-elec­tion at the lat­ter stop, say­ing he would con­tinue to drive France for­ward “within the frame­work of its ideals and val­ues” un­til he steps down in May. Hol­lande was also meet­ing with French troops dur­ing his trip. — Agen­cies

“There is no change to our long­stand­ing pol­icy on cross-Strait is­sues,” Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil spokes­woman Emily Horne told re­porters. “We re­main firmly com­mit­ted to our ‘One China’ pol­icy,” she added. “Our fun­da­men­tal in­ter­est is in peace­ful and sta­ble cross-Strait re­la­tions.”

Wash­ing­ton cut for­mal diplo­matic re­la­tions with the is­land in 1979 and rec­og­nizes Bei­jing as the sole gov­ern­ment of “One China” - while keep­ing friendly, non-of­fi­cial ties with Taipei. But since com­ing to of­fice this year, Tsai has re­fused to ac­cept the “One China” con­cept, prompt­ing Bei­jing to cut off all of­fi­cial com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the is­land’s new gov­ern­ment.

Even be­fore the call with Tai­wan, Trump’s un­ortho­dox diplo­matic outreach has raised eye­brows. Un­til Thurs­day, State De­part­ment of­fi­cials told re­porters that Trump had not asked for of­fi­cial brief­ing on cur­rent pol­icy from US diplo­mats be­fore mak­ing the con­tacts. On Fri­day, de­part­ment spokesman John Kirby said the out­go­ing US ad­min­is­tra­tion has now helped with “some for­eign com­mu­ni­ca­tions that the tran­si­tion team has gone for­ward with”.

But he re­ferred re­porters to Trump’s of­fice for de­tails and would not say whether the pres­i­dent-elect him­self had re­quested any back­ground brief­ings be­fore mak­ing or tak­ing any calls. Asked whether Trump was among those on the tran­si­tion team who re­ceived such help, a se­nior US of­fi­cial would only say that Vice Pres­i­dent-elect Mike Pence has also made for­eign calls.

The in­ci­dent comes as Philip­pine leader Ro­drigo Duterte said Trump ap­proved of Manila’s on­go­ing deadly drug war, say­ing the crack­down in which some 4,800 peo­ple have been killed was be­ing con­ducted in “the right way”, in stark con­trast to the crit­i­cism he re­ceived from Obama. The Philip­pine pres­i­dent called Trump late Fri­day evening to con­grat­u­late him on his elec­tion vic­tory with Trump wish­ing him “suc­cess” in his con­tro­ver­sial anti-crime crack­down, ac­cord­ing to Duterte.


ABU DHABI: (From right) HH the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ah­mad Al-Jaber AlSabah, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande and UAE Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Rashid Al-Mak­toum pose for a group pic­ture dur­ing the clos­ing cer­e­mony of an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence on pro­tect­ing the world’s cul­tural her­itage yes­ter­day.

— Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

KUWAIT: Light­ning strikes in the sky over Salmiya early yes­ter­day.

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