(Corrects final paragraph to make clear ICOM, not UNESCO,
issued the Syria "red list")
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS Dec 13 The head of UNESCO
sounded an alarm about widespread illegal archeological
excavations across war-ravaged Syria on Friday, saying the U.N.
cultural, education and science arm has warned auction houses,
museums and collections about the problem.
More than 100,000 people have died in Syria's 2 1/2-year
civil war, which has forced millions to flee their homes and
created a massive humanitarian crisis. In addition to the loss
of life and destruction of property, UNESCO says Syria's
cultural heritage - and reporters trying to the cover the war -
are increasingly under threat.
"The biggest danger there, apart from the destruction we
have seen of the world heritage sites ... is the illicit
archeological excavations," Irina Bokova, head of Paris-based
UNESCO, told reporters. "This is something that is not very high
on the radar of the international community."
Bokova was in New York on Friday to speak at an informal
U.N. Security Council meeting hosted by France and Guatemala on
the protection of journalists, something she said was an issue
of growing concern in Syria and other conflict zones around the
world where reporters are being targeted.
Earlier this week international news organizations called on
Syrian rebel leaders to stop armed groups kidnapping
journalists, saying dozens of abductions were preventing full
media coverage of the war.
In February, Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of Syria's antiquities
and museums, said illegal archeological digs have threatened
tombs in the desert town of Palmyra and the Bronze Age
settlement of Ebla.
Bokova said the problem has grown. She said UNESCO has
raised the issue of illegal excavations with U.N. Syria peace
mediator Lakhdar Brahimi and Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby.
"We were showing (them) the map of these illicit sites,
excavations," Bokova said. "This is our biggest concern
nowadays, that we don't know what's happening there, this
illicit trafficking (and) exports" of artifacts.
She did not say whether those involved in such excavations
had any alignment with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or
rebels seeking to oust him.
"Anybody can do it," she said. Bokova did not disclose
details of the locations of the illicit excavations in Syria.
In September the International Council of Museums in
cooperation with UNESCO issued what it called a "red list" of
types of artifacts to alert museums, collectors and auction
houses what to be on the lookout for from Syria. Bokova said
illicit Syrian artifacts have surfaced in neighboring Jordan.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Jim Loney)