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Spain returns stolen archaeological pieces to Colombia

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain returned to Colombia on Tuesday 691 archaeological pieces including 3,000-year-old ceramics that were seized in 2003 in a drug-trafficking and money-laundering case.

The pieces - including busts, statues and stone jewelry - were housed for 11 years in Madrid's Museum of America while courts decided who their rightful owner was after they were illegally exported from Colombia.

The South American country made an official petition to repatriate the objects and Spain's High Court ruled on June 10 that they be turned over to the Colombian government's archaeological authorities.

"In addition to economic value, the pieces' greatest value comes from their roots, which is an expression of history itself, of culture and of every nation's soul," Police General Director Ignacio Cosido said during a ceremony at the museum to turn the objects over to Colombian officials.

Spanish officials are still trying to determine which Latin American countries are the rightful owners of an additional 300 archaeological pieces seized in the 2003 raid.

(Reporting by Francisco Pazos; Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Catherine Evans)

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