Albanian art-trafficking ring broken up

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama inspects stolen art in Tirana, 9 October 2013 Prime Minister Edi Rama called for an end to the "lamentable plight of our heritage"

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Albanian police say they have foiled an art-trafficking ring seeking to sell hundreds of works of art abroad.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said the artworks seized - reportedly more than 1,000 - could fill an entire museum.

Among them were paintings, icons and murals thought to have been taken from churches and cultural centres in south-east Albania and Macedonia.

Their value was estimated at hundreds of thousands of dollars, Albania's Top TV reported.

Welcoming the police operation, Mr Rama said the artwork had "risked joining the long list of works that have crossed the country's borders".

He said it was one of the largest operations against art trafficking, but that it marked just the beginning of a campaign in which he appealed to Albanians to "redress this lamentable plight of our heritage".

Experts say that Albania's Orthodox churches have been plundered of much of their art work since the fall of communism, and that the trafficking of stolen art is widespread.

"[Albanian society] has forgotten that this might be our temporary house, but it remains the perennial abode of generations to come and we owe it to them to pass on the country we inherited from our ancestors," the prime minister said.

State news agency ATA reported that two men aged 39 and 51 had been arrested, and that two other suspects were wanted.

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