The United States on Thursday returned a cache of smuggled ancient artifacts to Libya as the oil-rich Mediterranean country struggles to protect its heritage against the backdrop of years of war, turmoil and unrest.
The repatriated items include two sculptures dating to the 4th century B.C. from the ancient city of Cyrene.
Libyan antiquities authorities thanked American officials and law enforcement for the returned items and said that they looked forward to future cooperation. The embassy credited the work of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and Homeland Security Investigations officials for the recovery of the artifacts.
“Although these antiquities were brought illegally to the United States by traffickers, legal efforts have succeeded in returning them to their country of origin,” the embassy statement read.
Libya boasts many ancient Greek and Roman structures, along with a wealth of ancient artifacts in its major museum in the capital of Tripoli and in other museums countrywide, though its archeological sites have been plundered for decades.
Libya has been wrecked by chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The country was after that split for years between rival administrations in the east and the west, each supported by an array of militias and foreign governments.
Large-scale fighting has only stopped in the past year, but Libyans have yet to unite under a single political leadership, despite strenuous U.N.-led efforts.