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Germany ponders return of looted colonial bronzes
View of the Berlin palace which will house the Humboldt Forum and the TV tower (L), on December 15, 2020. John MACDOUGALL / AFP.

BERLIN (AFP).- Germany is considering handing back a set of precious artefacts known as the Benin bronzes to Nigeria, a committee said Wednesday as a global debate gathers pace over the restitution of ancient artworks.

Members of the committee at the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK), which manages Berlin's museums, have "agreed to find a solution in the case of the Benin bronzes that also considers the restitution of objects as an option", it said in a statement.

The metal plaques and sculptures that decorated the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin between the 16th and 18th centuries are now scattered around European museums, after being looted by the British at the end of the 19th century.

The SPK's Ethnological Museum has 530 historical objects from the kingdom, including 440 bronzes -- considered the most important collection outside London's British Museum.

Some 180 of the bronzes -- which are not from modern Benin but the ancient Kingdom of Benin, today part of southern Nigeria -- are due to be exhibited this year in Berlin's Humboldt Forum, a new museum complex that opened in December.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Wednesday Germany was "working with those involved in Nigeria and in Germany" on the future of the objects, which he called "a question of justice".

"An honest approach to colonial history also includes the question of restitution of cultural assets," he said.

Ahead of the forum opening in December, the Nigerian ambassador to Germany, Yusuf Tuggar, called for the bronzes to be returned.

Tuggar said he had written "a formal letter" on behalf of his country to Chancellor Angela Merkel, but had received no reply.

The Prussian Heritage Foundation has previously said it was mulling repatriation of the objects as an option, along with other solutions including sharing the works with museums in Nigeria.

Most European former colonial powers have begun a process in recent years of considering the return of looted artefacts to the former colonies, especially in Africa.

In March 2019, Germany launched a project aimed at "identifying works from the colonial context whose appropriation took place in a manner contrary to the law or ethically unjustifiable", according to the foreign ministry.

© Agence France-Presse

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