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Oz police hopeful of recovering fossil
( 2003-07-25 07:18) (China Daily)

Australian police said they are confident they will capture thieves who stole a Chinese dinosaur fossil.

The fossil of a 110 million-year-old sittacosaurus sinensis was stolen early on Sunday from the Newcastle Regional Museum in the Australia state of New South Wales.

The 60-centimetre-tall fossil was one of more than 50 dinosaur bones and birds on loan from the Beijing Natural History Museum. The Australian museum had been exhibiting the fossils for nearly one year. The stolen fossil was taken on the day when the Beijing museum had been due to take all the fossils back.

An anonymous official with the Sydney City Police Department, which is in charge of the case, told China Daily yesterday afternoon that no progress had been made in finding the thieves. However, he said he was "absolutely'' confident that the police would find them.

The Australian museum was told that the police had searched many places, including almost all nearby ports. Julie Baird, the museum's curator, told China Daily: "They are trying everything they can.''

Both the museum and the police hope the thieves will realize that they have no choice but to return the fossil, she added.

Baird said the thieves were skilled operators. She added: "We lost the fossil more because of bad luck than bad security.''

The thieves climbed over a fence 8 feet (2.4 metres) tall and broke a security-glass window to enter the museum. They touched off the alarm, but it took them no more than 7 minutes to steal the fossil and escape before the police arrived, according to Baird.

If the museum and police fail to find the fossil within one month, compensation of 40,000 Australian dollars (US$26,500) will be paid to the Beijing Natural History Museum under an insurance policy taken out by the New South Wales government, according to the contract between the Beijing and Newcastle museums.

The Newcastle Regional Museum has offered a reward of 5,000 Australian dollars (US$3,300) for the fossil's return.

Baird said everyone was upset about the theft.

He Fengxiang, director of the Beijing Natural History Museum, said: "Nobody wants to see such incidents happen. We would rather have the fossil back than the money.''

The director predicted the case would not hold back the museum in its future plans to co-operate with its foreign counterparts.

Baird said the Newcastle Regional Museum was willing to prolong the exhibition.

Representatives from the Beijing Natural History Museum had been due to hold discussions with their Australian colleagues about providing new exhibits to extend the exhibition. However, this has been suspended for the moment because of the burglary.

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