GREEK & BRITISH OFFICIALS TO HOLD NEW TALKS ON ELGIN MARBLES

ATHENS, Greece: Greek and British officials will hold new talks in London next month on Greece's long-running bid to reclaim the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum, the government said Thursday.

The announcement came as the London museum indicated it could lift its refusal to let the 2,500-year-old marbles — also known as the Parthenon Sculptures — travel back to Athens, even as a loan.

Culture Minister George Voulgarakis said the May 4 meeting between culture ministry officials would be attended by museum representatives.

A ministry official said it would be the latest in a series of UNESCO-sponsored talks, held every two years, that have so far failed to resolve the world's most famous cultural heritage dispute.

On Tuesday, British Museum director Neil MacGregor said the marbles — which originally decorated the Parthenon temple in Athens — could "in principle" be lent to Greece, provided Athens renounced any claim to their ownership.

MacGregor told Bloomberg News that "there is no reason why any object in the British Museum — if it is fit to travel — shouldn't spend three months, six months, somewhere else."

"The difficulty at the moment ... is that the Greek government has formally, and recently, refused to acknowledge that the (museum) trustees are the owners of the objects," he said. "Therefore, in law, the trustees could not possibly lend them."

Voulgarakis said he read McGregor's comments "with great interest ... but this is not something official."

The Parthenon temple on the Acropolis was built in honor of Athena, goddess of wisdom and patron of the ancient city, between 447-432 B.C.

The London museum owns large sections of a 160-meter marble frieze, sculptured in relief, and 17 statues that originally decorated the upper part of the all-marble temple. These were removed in the early 19th century — when Greece was still part of the Ottoman empire — by British diplomat Lord Elgin.

Greece argues that the works were illegally removed and should be exhibited together in a new museum at the foot of the Acropolis hill, due to be completed this year.

The British Museum counters that the collection was legally acquired, properly looked after and is open to visitors free of charge.