VANUATU POLICE PROBE STOLEN ARTIFACTS

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PORT VILA, Vanuatu (The Independent, Oct. 24) – Police began their investigation into the illegal traffic of original arts on the island of Malakula this week.

[PIR editor’s note: Malakula, second-largest island in the Vanuatu chain, is located northwest of Efete, the main island of Vanuatu. ]

Tuesday, the police station at Lakotoro held a round-table meeting with five people from the North West area intentionally to identify the eventual network of the traffickers. This is suspected to be the main area targeted by [thieves] because of the preservation of its sacred sites and original arts.

The Lakatoro police station confirmed that sometime next week, they will start to prosecute local suspects involved in the matter.

The director of the Vanuatu Cultural Center, Marcelin Abong, told The Independent that during his recent visit to the island, he received information from the owners of various nasara that they have lost valuable stones.

"I also received the information that some of the owners have recovered missing stones that were buried in the sand ready to be embarked on ships. It is unbelievable, but some of the stones have been buried in the sand since 2005," confirmed Abong.

Some of the stones were recovered by police in Port Vila and Luganville.

The kava stone which belongs to one of the well known staff of the Vanuatu Cultural Center, Vianey Atpatun, and weighs more than 200 kilos, was stolen during the same year. The stone is currently in the cultural center after being seized at the main wharf in Port Vila in a container ready to be transported to Las Vegas in America.

Abong warns other islands to take extra precautions to prevent their cultural heritage from thieves.

"It is not only the island of Malekula that is concerned about the illegal traffic in original arts. The seizing of the wooden plate from the island of Santo by the Vanuatu Cultural Center is clear evidence that all the islands are now targeted," says Abong.

The wooden plate which has been placed in the cultural center was destined to a business man in Las Vegas in America.

He says that the Vanuatu Cultural Center has not the capacity to play the role of the police in the islands but urges the populations to be more vigilant.

The question of unlawful selling of the original arts was also raised by a youth leader in Vao, Alain Atpatun, during the recent visit of prime minister, Ham Lini on the island.

Mr Atpatun urged Prime Minister Lini to amend the current penalty, which is 30,000 vatu [US$324] and put heavy fines on law breakers.

The illegal traffic in original arts is ranking second to the illicit traffic of dangerous drugs.

Vanuatu News

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