Parthenon Marbles return possible without ownership accord, campaigners say

FILE PHOTO: Parthenon sculptures on display at British Museum in London

LONDON (Reuters) - The return of the British Museum's Parthenon Marbles to Greece is possible even if the two sides cannot come to an agreement over who owns the sculptures, a campaign group working to resolve the long-standing dispute said on Sunday.

Greece has asked for others to imitate the Vatican Museums after they agreed this month to return three 2,500-year-old pieces of the Parthenon. London and Athens are in talks over the Parthenon Sculptures held by the British Museum.

The Parthenon, which is on the Acropolis in Athens, was completed in the fifth century BC as a temple to the goddess Athena, and its decorative friezes contain some of the greatest examples of ancient Greek sculpture.

Greece has repeatedly called for the permanent return of the sculptures, which British diplomat Lord Elgin removed from the temple in the early 19th century when he was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Greece's then-ruler.

The Parthenon Project, which has been backed by British politicians from different parties, said the British Museum's Parthenon collection could be returned to Greece under a long-term cultural partnership agreement.

They would be reunited with Greece's artefacts in the Acropolis Museum in Athens, "as a complete artistic work consistent with its creators’ vision," the campaign group said.

The plans, which have been discussed with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and British Museum Chair George Osborne, would see a rotation of Greek masterpieces offered to the British Museum, including some that have never been seen outside Greece.

The Parthenon Project said the agreement would be predicated on "the acceptance by both sides that this transformative cultural partnership is possible, despite the absence of a shared position on ownership of the Parthenon Collection."

That would mean the arrangement sidesteps the requirement for a change in the law to allow the British Museum to dispose of its artefacts.

Osborne has played down the prospect of a permanent return of the marbles, citing the potential legal hurdles, and instead suggested an arrangement where the marbles can be seen in both London and Athens.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Sharon Singleton)