LOJA (REUTERS).- Ecuador's president on Tuesday threw his support behind demands by neighboring Peru for Yale University to return thousands of artifacts removed from the Inca site of Machu Picchu a century ago for study at the U.S. university.
The Peruvian government filed a lawsuit in 2008 against Yale, which is located in New Haven, Connecticut, seeking to recover more than 40,000 objects that Peru says were taken by U.S. explorer Hiram Bingham in the early 1900s.
During a meeting with his Peruvian counterpart Alan Garcia in the border town of Loja, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said Quito would support Peru's case and help it win regional backing at the Union of South American Nations, Unasur.
"It has all our support, and not only that, but I will take this to Unasur, because it is at the level of Unasur that these national assets should be recovered, these items that were taken illegitimately from their rightful owners," Correa said.
Garcia said in September that Yale must reach an agreement with his government regarding the artifacts or be branded as looters and robbers.
The artifacts, including pottery, jewelry and bones, were sent out of the country after Bingham, a Yale alumnus, rediscovered the site in the Andes in 1911. Peru says the objects were loaned to Yale for 18 months but never returned.
At the time, the ancient city, now a tourist hot spot, was essentially forgotten, covered by thick forest in the mountains some 8,000 feet above sea level.
Peru is dotted with hundreds of archeological sites and has struggled for years to combat trafficking of fossils and artifacts. Both presidents also called for treasures held by other countries, including Argentina, to be sent home.
"We found that in other countries there are pieces, works of art and archeological items that are Peruvian and Ecuadorean, but which are in third countries, like in Argentina's case," Garcia said at the end of the meeting.
(Writing by Daniel Wallis; editing by Jim Marshall)