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Police at the border crossing of Kakavije with Greece on Thursday arrested Edjon Abazi for trying to smuggle religious antiques out of the country in the trunk of his car.
|Antique cross hauled by Albanian police on Thursday|
A search of Abazi’s home in the port town of Durres later on Thursday revealed a treasure trove of antiques coming from the black market.
Police found 16 medieval jars of various sizes, 11 antique marble columns, two amphoras and dozens of other smaller objects.
Since the collapse of Communism in 1991 Albania's museums and archeological sites have suffered numerous thefts. Medieval churches, particularly those located in remote areas, have often fallen prey of thieves.
The recent clumsy destruction by thieves of a precious fresco, work of the celebrated 16th-century painter, Onufri, has stimulated the debate in Albania on official handling of the country’s patrimony.
The fresco was wrecked after thieves armed with axes and knives twice scalped through the painting in the church in the remote village of Valsh in late December and early January.
The looters tried to cut through the plaster of the chapel to remove the aureoles of the saints, but managed only to destroy them.
NGOs and the opposition have panned the Ministry of Culture, accusing it of doing too little to safeguard cultural heritage. The Ministry has responded that Albania has more patrimony than it is realistically able to protect.
An MP has said that the Culture Minister, Aldo Bumci, should resign after failing to protect the frescos of a 16th-century Albanian master that looters recently destroyed.
In two high-profile war crimes trials currently ongoing in Pristina, a series of witnesses have retracted previous statements alleging abuse at Kosovo Liberation Army detention centres.