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Tribal masks auction wins go-ahead.

A FRENCH court yesterday ruled to allow an auction of dozens of Native American tribal masks opposed by the Hopi tribe and its supporters including actor Robert Redford.

The US government has also asked for the sale to be delayed.

The potentially landmark decision with transatlantic repercussions meant the sale could go ahead across Paris at Drouot auction house yesterday.

The auctioneer argued that blocking the sale would have tremendous implications and potentially force French museums to empty their collections. Hopi Indians from the US state of Arizona insist the masks were stolen spiritual vessels and want them back.

"This decision is very disappointing since the masks will be sold and dispersed," said the tribe's French lawyer, Pierre Servan-Schreiber, outside the courtroom.

"The Hopi tribe will be extremely saddened by the decision, especially since the judgement recognises that these masks have a sacred value. The judge considers that the imminent damage [to the masks] is not sufficiently strong."

The Hopis' lawyers have filed a request with the Council of Sales, the French auction market authority, to suspend the sale, he added. On Thursday, the US ambassador to France sent a letter to the French government and the auction house asking for a delay to the sale to better consider the tribe's concerns.

Gilles Neret-Minet, of the Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou auction house behind the auction, said he would stop short of any triumphalism over the ruling, "but I'm happy that French law was respected".

"I am also very concerned about the Hopis' sadness, but you cannot break property law," he said.

"These are in [private] collections in Europe: they are no longer sacred. When objects are in private collections, even in the United States, they are desacralised."

Neret-Minet said the auction house has received "serious threats" ahead of the auction, and declined to comment further.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 13, 2013
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