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China not to buy stolen relics from France
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China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) said Friday that it would not try to buy back two looted bronze relics that are being auctioned in February by Christie's.

The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) bronze rabbit and rat heads once decorated Yuanmingyuan, Beijing's Imperial Summer Palace. They were stolen when the palace was burnt down by Anglo-French allied forces during the Second Opium War in 1860.

The relics, which will be auctioned in Paris, currently belong to the Yves Saint Laurent Foundation and were put up for auction by the late fashion magnate's partner, Pierre Berge.

"It is not acceptable that a foreign company would put the looted relics for auction, and we will not try to buy them back," said Song Xinchao, director of the museum department with the SACH.

He said that the best way to deal with the issue was to ignore it, because some business people might use the patriotism of the Chinese people to raise bidding prices for monetary gain.

The bronzes were once part of a fountain that displayed the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. Five of the bronze animal heads have already been returned to China, while the whereabouts of five others is unknown, according to the Beijing Times.

The American auction house Sotheby tried to put bronze horse head for auction in 2007. But Macau billionaire Stanley Ho bought the relic at a price of 69.1 million Hong Kong dollars (about 9 million U.S. dollars) before the auction and donated it to the Chinese government.

A team of 69 Chinese lawyers volunteered last month to sue Christie's over the sale of relics. But the company said they had not received any lawsuit notice from the court.

"The lawsuit will be placed before a French court in accordance with international law," said Liu Yang, one of the lawyers working on the case.

He said that they would demand that the auction house stop the sale and persuade the owner of the stolen artifacts to return them to China.

The two artifacts will be auctioned in Paris in February 23-25. They are expected to fetch 8 to 10 million euros (about 10.4 to 13 million U.S. dollars) each, said China's Special Fund for Rescuing Lost Cultural Relics from overseas.

The fund had negotiated with the keeper of the two relics in 2003 and 2004, but were taken deterred by an asking price of 10 million U.S. dollars for each artifact.

Chinese netizens are furious about the auction. A netizen from Shanxi pasted an entry on the forum of sina.com, saying that "looted relics must be returned to China for free."

(Xinhua News Agency January 23, 2009)

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