Macedonia fights to save cultural treasures from looters

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The country has vowed to put a stop to illegal excavations at the country's archaeological sites, many of which have already been ransacked by smugglers.

When archaeologists arrived at Isar Marvinci in southern Macedonia, an ancient seat of power which flourished under the ancient Greeks but was razed to the ground by the Romans, they had hoped to begin excavations, but instead faced an unpleasant surprise.

Police officials are reluctant to estimate whether the amount of archaeological thefts has risen in recent years, but say that the business could be worth several million dollars a year. In the last two years, police have recorded 21 cases of cultural heritage theft, 16 of which have been solved.

Thieves are mostly interested in smaller pieces like money, silver, copper or ceramic pots, and stone figures. A wide-ranging network is believed to be organised through regional crime gangs, while buyers are easily found in Greece, Austria and Germany.

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