TERRORISM

Cyprus: New convention targets illegal antiquities dealers

Europe's top human rights body is staking aim at smugglers and buyers who deal in stolen antiquities and other priceless cultural artifacts in a trade that's often used to finance terrorist organizations, Cyprus' foreign minister said Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said the Council of Europe's Nicosia Convention is the first to criminalize the theft and destruction of cultural property. A key clause of the convention puts the burden of proof on buyers to demonstrate that a purchased item wasn't illicitly obtained.

Kasoulides said it's estimated that the Islamic State group and other terrorist organizations have earned $150 million (135 million euros) from the illicit trade.

He said the first six of the CoE's 47 member states are expected to sign the convention later this week when Cyprus hosts a meeting of the human rights body.

The convention will take effect once it's ratified by 12 signatory states, Kasoulides said. The convention's provisions would then be transposed into the penal code of individual countries which are then responsible for enforcing it.

The convention was the initiative of Cyprus which has long fought legal battles in the United States and Europe in a bid to reclaim many of the hundreds stolen frescoes, mosaics and other religious artifacts looted from churches in ethnically divided island's breakaway Turkish Cypriot north.

The island was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup mounted by supporters of union with Greece.

"It' because of our experience that we wish these actions don't happen anywhere else again," Kasoulides said.