HUNGARY TO RETURN LOOTED ANTIQUITIES TO GREECE

Hungary has offered to return a collection of antiquities on display in a leading Budapest museum that were illegally exported from Greece, the Hungarian foreign minister said Thursday.

Kinga Goncz said Greek and Hungarian experts would meet to study the 22 pieces and discuss which would be repatriated.

"We are ready to return these artifacts," she said.

The Hungarian offer comes as Athens has stepped up its campaign to reclaim looted antiquities from museums and private collections worldwide.

Goncz said the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest bought the pieces several years ago from a private owner.

"It turned out in the last few months that some of them are for sure from excavations, from Greece, and ... were illegally brought to Hungary," she said, without elaborating.

Goncz was speaking after talks in Athens with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis.

Greek Culture Minister Michalis Liapis said the Hungarian government's decision to launch talks on the artifacts return set "an example for the international community."

"The return of antiquities ... tops the culture ministry's agenda," Liapis said.

Last week, a broken marble sculpture and a bronze vase dating to the 4th century B.C. were repatriated from the U.S. following a deal between the Greek government and collector Shelby White. Greece was able to prove that the pieces were illegally exported from the country, but conceded that White, a New York philanthropist, bought them "in good faith" and would face no legal action.

Other recently returned works include sculptures and a gold wreath from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Later this month, Athens will host an exhibition of looted antiquities recently returned to Greece and Italy, which has also mounted an aggressive bid to reclaim stolen artifacts.

The works will be shown at the landmark new Acropolis Museum, where Greek officials hope one day to display the Elgin Marbles — a collection of 2,500 year old sculptures from the ancient Parthenon temple that are now in the British Museum.

The London museum has repeatedly refused to hand back the marble pieces, which were removed from the Parthenon 200 years ago by Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin.