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U.N. agency urges coalition to protect Iraqi relics

Russia voices similar concerns

Looters ransacked the vault of the National Archaeological Museum of Baghdad.
Looters ransacked the vault of the National Archaeological Museum of Baghdad.

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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- A U.N. agency is urging the United States and Great Britain to take "immediate measures" to protect archaeological sites and cultural institutions in Iraq, which boasts some of the earliest civilizations on Earth.

The plea came after looters ransacked the National Archaeological Museum of Baghdad soon after U.S.-led military forces toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein.

"Collections and a heritage considered to be one of the richest in the world" need to be protected, according to UNESCO Director-General Ko´chiro Matsuura.

The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization issued Matsuura's statement Saturday.

Matsuura called for protection of the Archaeological Museum of Baghdad and the Mosul Museum and other institutions in the Baghdad region.

The same request was expressed to British authorities concerning the Basra area in southern Iraq.

Matsuura also asked international police and customs officials and authorities of countries bordering Iraq to prevent "the illegal exports of Iraqi cultural goods" and urged "the principal actors of the art market" to join forces with UNESCO "so that stolen objects should not find their way to acquirers."

Looters ransacked the Baghdad museum and seized some items that were hundreds of years old, witnesses at the scene said. The museum is home to archaeological artifacts from thousands of years of history in the Tigris-Euphrates basin, widely held to be the site of the world's earliest civilizations.

In Moscow, Russian officials echoed the concerns of UNESCO. Russia's Foreign Ministry said Sunday that occupation forces bear full responsibility for the humanitarian situation in Iraq, including protecting cultural monuments.

Alexander Yakovenko, Foreign Ministry press secretary, told Russia's First Channel TV that "we are deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Iraq."

"In this regard, we would like to note that, according to international law, full responsibility for taking care of Iraqis' humanitarian needs rests first and foremost with the occupation authorities," Yakovenko said.

CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.

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