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Cultural relics see high-tech crime risk
By Jiang Zhuqing (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-02-28 06:15

The protection of cultural relics is under severe threat from increases in illegal excavation, theft and smuggling in recent years, heritage officials have warned.

To curb rampant criminal activity, administrative enforcement organs are being urged to set up stringent safeguards above the county level according to China's law on the protection of cultural heritage, said Liu Qifu, an official from State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

Forty stealing cases, during which 222 cultural relics were stolen from the country's protected ancient sites and museums, were reported nationwide last year, an 81.8 per cent increase year-on-year, a report released by administration last week said.

Twenty-one, or 52.5 per cent, of these cases involved relics protection units of different levels, while 11 occurred in museums and eight cases happened in government offices responsible for relics, it said.

"The figure does not include the number of crimes where illicit excavation at ancient tombs occurred," said Shan Jixiang, head of the administration, at an annual working conference on cultural relics at the end of last year.

What is worse, only seven of the stealing cases were uncovered by the cultural relics protection departments and public security departments last year, Shan added.

Driven by huge profits, criminals are active in digging ancient tombs and cultural heritage sites, stealing and smuggling , experts said.

At the same time, lots of stone sculptures and relics in temples are most vulnerable to theft because most of them are widely scattered in fields and lack enough protective measures.

Analyzing the crimes, Liu said thieves have mainly focused their "wicked hands" on the relic items stored in key cultural heritage sites or museums.

By using high-tech, such as computer and Internet technologies, they have been involved in crimes such as stealing, illegal transportation, smuggling and speculative sales of relics in provinces and regions.

Experts estimate that stolen relics could be smuggled across of the border within one or two weeks by the suspects; and after that it would be difficult for the cultural heritage protection departments to trace them.

For example, the police department in East China's Anhui Province spent two years to crack a case in late 2004 to arrest 37 suspects who stole and smuggled 469 cultural relics, including more than 100 State-protected art treasures.

A stealing and smuggling network had existed for more than 10 years in about 10 provinces and regions including Hong Kong and Macao, sources said. Among the suspects arrested by police were five people from China's Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions.

In China, departments such as the bureaux for protection of cultural heritage and relics, police, as well the bureaux of industrial and commercial administration bear the responsibility to crack down on crimes and infringement cases of stealing and smuggling of cultural relics, said Liu, the official from State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

The administration's statistics indicated that 807 law enforcement organs which include 4,279 personnel have been established by the cultural heritage departments at the county level around the nation.

(China Daily 02/28/2005 page2)

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