Aden port officials foil attempt to smuggle Yemeni antiques

Government says Houthi rebels are selling historical objects abroad to raise funds

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Port officials in Aden seized a shipment of antiques that is suspected to be part of what the Yemeni government says is looting of the country's heritage by Houthis to fund their insurgency.

The consignment of eight objects seized last week arrived by lorry from Sanaa, the rebel-held capital, on its way to an address in Djibouti, Col Shallal Al Shoubagi of the harbour security force told The National.

Port officials asked Ali Bahasan, an official at Yemen's antiquities authority, to examine the objects.

"We found that they were artefacts from early Islamic history: jars, jugs, jambiyas, necklaces, rings - some made of silver mixed with gold, housewares made of silver and gems, in addition to boxes made of decorative wood," Mr Bahasan said.

Yemeni antiques seized by officials at Aden port. Ali Mahmood for The National

Yemen's Culture Minister, Marwan Dammaj, has accused the Houthis of looting museums and ancient sites and selling artefacts abroad.

Last month, Mr Dammaj handed a list of stolen artefacts to a UN team charged with preserving Yemen's antiquities and historic sites, the government-run Saba news agency said.

He said the rebels had smuggled out thousands of artefacts and manuscripts since they seized the capital in 2014. They had excavated and destroyed many sites in the provinces and looted museums in Sanaa and Aden for items to sell abroad, Mr Dammaj said.

The minister told Asharq Al Awsat newspaper earlier this year that artefacts were worth millions of dollars on the black market and had become an important source of funding for the rebels.

During a meeting in November with the UN cultural agency's representative for the Arab Gulf states and Yemen, Anna Paolini, he discussed co-operation with Unesco about measures to stop the looting of Yemen's heritage.

They spoke about setting up a team of specialists to track and recover smuggled Yemeni artefacts on the international market and the training of a local force to find and recover objects before they were taken out of the country, according to Saba.

Yemen is home to several Unesco-listed heritage sites that are under threat from the country's civil war between the internationally recognised government supported by a Saudi-led Arab military coalition and the Iran-backed Houthis.

A UN-mediated process to negotiate an end to the conflict is scheduled to begin in Geneva next month.


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