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The Getty hands over loot

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ROME -- Italy, which is getting three pieces of looted art back this week, is hoping for more.

As the country takes back artwork from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, including an ancient urn believed to have been painted by the Greek artist Asteas, Italian officials say they want to reopen settlement negotiations.

Italy has accused the Getty's former curator of antiquities, Marion True, of buying an additional 42 objects stolen from excavation sites or dug up in the countryside. True, who has pleaded not guilty, has taken refuge in France and is expected to come to Rome next week. Her trial resumes Nov. 16.

At the same time, Italian officials say they have sent a letter to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, answering the museum's requests to start negotiations over items including Hellenistic silver taken from Morgantina, Sicily.

Culture Minister Rocco Buttiglione says that to settle the Getty case, Italy could loan the 42 pieces to the museum for as long as eight years and increase other prized artworks that could be loaned for other exhibitions.

"We want to have back all that is ours," he says. He concedes, however, that Italy doesn't have clear evidence for every item. "In cases in which the evidence is less clear, we might be more flexible."

The Getty said in a statement that it "welcomes all discussions on these matters and has always regarded negotiations as the best way to resolve issues with the Italian government."

The Getty board recently created a special committee to investigate looting claims.

Italy passed its first law to protect the country's treasures in 1939, declaring all artifacts purchased after 1902 to be government property. In 1983, the United States ratified a UNESCO accord for stricter antiquities import controls.

Several of the pieces owned by the Getty and the Met were suspected of being of suspicious provenance, but now Italy says it has compelling proof.

In 1995, Italian investigators raided the warehouse of art dealer Giacomo Medici and found hundreds of photos of allegedly stolen artifacts, many of which were sold to museums, including the Getty and the Met. Medici was convicted last year for trafficking in stolen goods and conspiracy and sentenced to 10 years. He is appealing.

Medici and True met several times, but one of True's attorneys, Francesca Coppi, says if the Getty bought any stolen art, True was a victim of fraud.

"We are convinced that Marion True, when she acquired these objects for the museum, it was in the maximum of good faith and that she didn't have the slightest idea that they derived from illicit means," Coppi says. True, 57, resigned from the museum last month after it was revealed she did not properly disclose details that one of the Getty's art dealers helped her get a loan for a home in Greece.

One sign of Italy's losses: The local museum has a paltry display of one of the richest archaeological sites in Italian history.

Many of the disputed artifacts were acquired by museums years ago, and the statute of limitations has expired. Historical sites were regularly pilfered between 1950 and 1970, says Virginia Miranda Hernandez, an archaeology expert who works at the tourist office.

But Italians hope publicity will result in pieces being returned, anyway. Museums keeping the artifacts, Hernandez says, "is a violation of our land and our history."

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