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hundreds of precious books handed back to Germany



Armenia hands back Soviet army war booty to Germany

BONN, May 4 (Reuters) - Armenia on Monday handed back to Germany
hundreds of precious books, dating back as far as the 11th century,
which had been taken away by Soviet forces in the aftermath of World
War Two.
Vardan Oskanyan, the former Soviet republic's foreign minister,
presented around 570 books to his German counterpart Klaus Kinkel at a
ceremony in Bonn.
The German Foreign Ministry said the books included rare works on
theology and also musical manuscripts by Johann Christian Bach, the
youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Most originally came from libraries in Bremen, Hamburg and Luebeck
but were stored underground in the east of what was then German
territory to protect them from bombing raids.
German officials say Soviet troops discovered the books and shipped
them back to Leningrad in 1946. From there, they were passed on to an
academic library in Yerevan.
Kinkel described Armenia's gesture as a ``great boost'' for bilateral
relations and said he hoped it would be a signal to other countries
which still have German cultural treasures as a result of the war.
Russia is widely believed to have the lion's share of such treasures
but efforts to get Moscow to hand them back have met with little
success so far.
The Russian parliament has passed a law blocking the return of the
artefacts, which it regards as compensation for Russia's suffering
during the war.
Russia's constitutional court is now examining the law at the request
of President Boris Yeltsin to see if it violates Moscow's
international commitments. The court has said it will need most of
this year to reach a decision. ^REUTERS@

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