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Rare Ethiopian crown, hidden for 21 years in the Netherlands, returns home

The handover took place at a ceremony in the capital, Addis Ababa, attended by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch minister for foreign trade and development cooperation.

In this file photo taken on 27 August 2019 Dutch-Ethiopian Sirak Asfaw (L) and Dutch art detective Arthur Brand pose with an 18th-century Ethiopian crown at an undisclosed high-security storage facility in the Netherlands. Picture: AFP

ADDIS ABABA - Ethiopia's government on Thursday assumed custody of a priceless 18th-century crown that a former refugee had kept hidden in his apartment in the Netherlands for two decades.

The handover took place at a ceremony in the capital, Addis Ababa, attended by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch minister for foreign trade and development cooperation.

Sirak Asfaw, the one-time refugee who is now a Dutch citizen, fled Ethiopia during the late 1970s during the so-called "Red Terror" purges.

He found the gilded crown - which features images of Christ and the Twelve Apostles - in 1998 in a suitcase left behind by a visitor.

It had "disappeared" from the Holy Trinity Church in Cheleqot, a village in northern Ethiopia, the Dutch government said in a statement Thursday.

Sirak assumed the crown had been stolen but worried it would "just disappear again" if he returned it to Ethiopia's leaders, so he kept it in his apartment in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam, he told AFP last year.

Only after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018 did Sirak feel comfortable handing it over.

He then contacted Arthur Brand, a renowned Dutch art detective, who brought the story to the Dutch government's attention.

"We're honoured and delighted to have been able to facilitate the rightful return," Kaag, the Dutch minister, said in a statement Thursday.

Abiy thanked the Dutch government for organising the artefact's return, according to a report from state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate, which noted that the crown "is thought to be one of just 20 in existence".

By Thursday afternoon, the crown was on display at Ethiopia's National Museum.

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