Bangladeshi anti-crime agency arrested eight suspects Thursday following the theft of two rare 1,500-year-old statues that were headed to France for an exhibition

Bangladesh Arrests 8 After Statue Theft

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) —

Col. Gulzar Uddin Ahmed of the Rapid Action Battalion said authorities were using information given by the suspects to carry out raids on premises near the capital to recover two terra-cotta statues of Hindu god Vishnu.

The statues were discovered stolen Sunday from a high-security cargo area at Dhaka’s international airport.

“The suspects belong to a criminal gang, and we believe they were directly involved in the theft,” Ahmed said. He did not elaborate.

Local television reports said the statues may have been broken up and disposed of. The private NTV network said police were questioning city cleaners who claimed to have found pieces of the statues at various garbage dumps.

The latest arrests come a day after an adviser to Bangladesh’s cultural affairs ministry stepped down following criticism over the theft.

Cultural Affairs and Education Adviser Ayub Quadri said he resigned for “personal reasons.”

“I am not sure if it’s my personal failure. But since I am in charge of the ministry, I share some of the responsibility,” Quadri told reporters before his resignation Wednesday.

The statues — a bust and a full-length depiction of Vishnu in fired clay — were insured for a total of $65,000.

The Vishnus were among 143 artifacts — collected from five major museums — that Bangladesh had agreed to send to France for an exhibition at the Guimet Museum in Paris, due to open early next year. The first consignment of 42 objects was flown to Paris on Dec. 1.

Following an outcry over the missing statues, the government decided Tuesday not to send the remaining artifacts to France, and plans to ask for the return of those sent earlier to Paris, officials said.

The government informed the French Embassy in Dhaka on Wednesday that it would not be possible to “go ahead with holding the exhibition of the items as planned” at the Guimet Museum, Foreign Secretary Touhid Hossain said.

The embassy expressed regret over the cancellation in a statement, but said Paris respected the government’s decision.

“We fully respect this decision, while regretting the cancellation of an event that would surely have enhanced the cultural presence of Bangladesh throughout the world,” the statement said.

Bangladesh had asked Interpol to help trace the stolen statues, and had tightened controls along the Indian border to prevent them from being smuggled out.

“These are masterpieces and very valuable to our cultural heritage,” said Shamsuzzaman Khan, a former head of the Bangladesh National Museum, where the most valuable of the relics are normally housed. “The government should not have agreed to send them abroad.”