New storm over return of Elgin Marbles

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The Independent Online

A fresh dispute has erupted between Greece and Britain over the Elgin Marbles, after the British Government refused to return two missing marble fragments needed for the restoration of the Parthenon.

Dr Evangelos Venizelos, the Greek Culture Minister, has written to Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, asking her to return two pieces of marble that were taken by the British from the columns of the temple in Athens in about 1800. The marble fragments, now part of the Elgin collection in the British Museum, come from two columns the Greeks plan to restore and return to the Parthenon structure this year.

In a letter congratulating Ms Jowell on her appointment this summer, Dr Venizelos asked for her help in securing the return of the fragments. But the request was refused by the Government, which has stuck to its line that nothing within the Elgin collection will be returned.

The Greeks are angry. They have offered to put up a plaque acknowledging Britain's role in restoring the columns if the pieces are returned.

Victoria Solomonidis, the cultural counsellor at the Greek embassy in London, said: "The whole monument is being restored. But we are missing these pieces ... The British are not being helpful."

Greece has also renewed its request to return the entire Elgin collection. It recently put an offer to the Government, promising to give Britain access to priceless antiquities in return for a permanent loan of the marbles to the Athens museum.

The British Museum said it had not yet received a formal offer from the Greeks to lend the museum antiquities in return for the Elgin collection. It said it would "review the situation" if it received a formal approach.