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US Bars Import of Looted Peruvian Treasures

May 8, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The United States will bar the importation of looted Peruvian archaeological treasures to shield them from the greed of U.S. art dealers and collectors, the Bush administration says.

″The import ban is the strongest action possible to assist Peru in preserving its cultural heritage,″ Bruce S. Gelb, director of the U.S. Information Agency, said at a news conference Monday.

The ban targets artifacts of the Moche culture being stolen by armed looters in Peru’s Sipan region, the locale of intact pre-Colombian tombs.

Gelb said the archaeological sites are ″believed to be the richest tombs found in the Western Hemisphere.″

He said an inquiry showed that the U.S. market for art objects looted from the tombs of the Moche culture in northern Peru ″is so large it is encouraging looting in the region.″

Cesar Atala, the Peruvian ambassador to the United States, said the ban ″will help us avoid the enormous lure of the U.S. market.″

Intricately crafted gold, gilded copper and silver objects have been uncovered at the site.

Michael H. Lane, deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs, compared the looting to narcotics trafficking.

″We see the same techniques and the same motive - greed - as we see every day in the smuggling of narcotics,″ Lane said.

Under the presidential order, requested by Peru, artifacts from the region will be seized by Customs agents and returned to Peru unless the items are accompanied by an export permit issued by the Peruvian government.

Atala said the looting was preventing archaeologists from evaluating the material in its original location and from studying the Moche culture, its origins and its relationship to other pre-Colombian cultures.

Experts say the tombs, discovered in 1987, have yielded important information about the civilization that inhabited the river valleys of northern Peru from 100 to 700 A.D.

Lane said the ban would not be retroactive, but Moche objects already in the United States could be seized under other laws if they were shown to have been stolen.

The United States imposed emergency restrictions on monumental pre- Colombian artifacts from El Salvador in 1987 and on some Andean textiles from Bolivia last year. Similar requests from Canada and Guatemala are pending.