Netherlands returns colonial-era artefacts to Sri Lanka

By Uditha Jayasinghe

COLOMBO (Reuters) – The Netherlands returned six artefacts including a cannon, a ceremonial sword and two guns taken from Sri Lanka more than 250 years ago on Tuesday, as part of efforts by the former colonial power to redress historical wrongs, officials said.

Sri Lanka asked the Netherlands to return the artefacts after the Dutch government approved the restitution of historic objects in 2021.

The artefacts were taken in 1765 from Kandy, the last kingdom of ancient Sri Lanka, when the Dutch besieged the palace, a statement from the Netherlands embassy said.

“The objects were wrongfully brought to the Netherlands during the colonial period, acquired under duress or by looting,” it added.

Sri Lanka is grateful to the government and the people of the Netherlands for returning the artefacts, said Buddhasasana Religious and Cultural Affairs Minister Vidura Wickramanayake.

“There are more to come. Not only from the Netherlands but also from other countries like Great Britain. So we have already started negotiations and I hope they will be fruitful very soon,” he told reporters.

The artefacts will now be housed at the National Museum in Colombo and more are expected to follow.

“These objects represent an important cultural and historical value and they are back in Sri Lanka where they can be seen by the Sri Lankan public,” said Dewi Van de Weerd, Ambassador for International Cultural Cooperation.

“The value of returning these objects is important because it is about addressing historical injustices.”

The Netherlands returned over 300 artefacts to Indonesia earlier this year, according to its government.

Returning artefacts to former colonised countries is a long running and often sensitive issue.

A dispute between Britain and Greece over the ownership of the Parthenon Sculptures, known as the Elgin marbles, escalated last month, with both sides blaming the other for the cancellation of a planned meeting between their two leaders.

Greece has repeatedly called on the British Museum to permanently return the 2,500-year-old sculptures that British diplomat Lord Elgin removed from the Parthenon temple in Athens in 1806, during a period when Greece was under Ottoman Turkish rule.

(Reporting by Uditha Jayasinghe; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)