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Cablegate: Government Adviser Resigns Over Stolen Artifacts

VZCZCXRO0031
RR RUEHCI
DE RUEHKA #1978 3610922
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 270922Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5869
INFO RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 9463
RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 8242
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 1970
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0388
RUEHAH/AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT 0183
RUEHNT/AMEMBASSY TASHKENT 0182
RUEHDBU/AMEMBASSY DUSHANBE
RUEHTA/AMEMBASSY ALMATY 0103
RUEHEK/AMEMBASSY BISHKEK 0070
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 0051
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 1089

UNCLAS DHAKA 001978

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL BG
SUBJECT: GOVERNMENT ADVISER RESIGNS OVER STOLEN ARTIFACTS


1. (U) SUMMARY. Two priceless 7th century artifacts en route
to an exhibit in Paris disappeared from Zia International
Airport cargo facilities December 23. Bangladesh,s
contribution of artifacts to the Paris exhibition has been
the subject of months of controversy here. In response, on
December 26 Education and Cultural Affairs Adviser Ayub
Quadri accepted responsibility for the loss and submitted his
resignation. Quadri is the first adviser of the caretaker
government to step down since the government took office on
January 12, 2007. END SUMMARY.

MYSTERY OF THE STOLEN VISHNUS
=============================

2. (U) A box containing two 7th century terracotta Vishnu
statues disappeared from the cargo storage facilities of Zia
International Airport on December 23. The two statues were
part a 43-piece consignment of artifacts bound for an
exhibition at the Guimet Museum in Paris. At 8PM that
evening, law enforcement authorities found an empty packing
crate floating in a ditch near the airport runway. Fifteen
suspects were taken into custody, and on December 27, police
reportedly found pieces of the statues at a landfill on the
outskirts of Dhaka.

3. (U) The disappearance of the two artifacts is the latest
development in a months-long saga regarding the planned
exhibit of ancient Bangladesh treasures at the Guimet Museum
in Paris. Several prominent Bangladeshi antiquities
professors and cultural activists have opposed the government
of Bangladesh's decision to ship the antiquities for display
in Paris. The protestors expressed concerns about the
security of the treasures and doubts about whether the museum
would return all the pieces.

FRENCH EMBASSY CALLS DISAPPEARANCE "SUSPICIOUS"
============================================= ==

4. (U) In a press statement on December 24, the French
Embassy in Dhaka called the disappearance of the two statues
"highly suspicious" and said it could be an attempt to
embarrass the governments of France and Bangladesh. The
Embassy said "loose procedures" at the airport resulted in
the crates sitting unsecured on the airport tarmac. The
French also pointed out that if the Air France plane's
arrival had not been delayed due to fog, the disappearance
likely would not have been detected until the crates had
reached Paris. This would have resulted in finger-pointing
at France rather than Bangladesh, thus legitimizing the
concerns of the protestors, read the statement.

ADVISER RESIGNS OVER INCIDENT
=============================

5. (U) Accepting responsibility for failing to safeguard the
antiquities, Education and Cultural Affairs Adviser Ayub
Quadri submitted his resignation to the Chief Adviser on the
evening of December 26. He is the first adviser to resign
since the government took power on January 12, 2007.
Pasi

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