September 30, 2005

Australia Returns Fossils to China

PERTH, Australia (AP) - Australia on Friday handed over to the Chinese government 10,000 fossils that had been illegally exported from China, including dinosaur eggs, ancient turtles and a saber-toothed cat, an official said.

Australian officials seized the fossils after receiving an official request from Beijing in 2003, Environment and Heritage Minister Ian Campbell said in a statement.

A joint operation between Australian police and customs netted an "extraordinary" range of pieces, including early elephant and rhinoceros bones and rare fossils of fish and reptiles, Campbell said.

Some of the fossils date back 230 million years and have a total value of up to $3.8 million.

The minister formally handed the fossils over to Chinese Ambassador Fu Ying at a ceremony held at the Chinese consulate in the Western Australia state capital, Perth.

"In 230 million years, a short detour to Australia and back is a mere blip in history," Campbell told the gathering. "All in all, it is a massive collection. It is one of the biggest fossil hauls in world history, and certainly the biggest in Chinese and Australian history."

Campbell said he hoped Australia's cooperation with China would signal "yet another strengthening of the relationship" between the two countries.

Justice Minister Chris Ellison said Australia was one of the first countries to help China stop the flow of illegally exported fossils.

Ellison said some of the fossils had been bought by Australians unaware that such items can be legally removed from China only with a permit from the Chinese Ministry of Land and Resources.

"The Australian government has great respect for the significance of these items as part of China's scientific and cultural history, and is committed to ensuring the world's important heritage is protected into the future," Ellison said.