Easter Island 'Moai' stone statue begins long journey home

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SANTIAGO, Feb 21 (Reuters) - A huge "Moai" statue, one of the iconic stone monuments from Easter Island, began its journey back home on Monday following a years-long campaign to get it returned to its original setting since it was housed in a museum in Santiago in the 19th century.

The 715 kilogram (0.72 tonne) sculpture will be transported by truck to the Chilean port city of Valparaíso, from where it will set sail on a naval ship on a journey of about five days to reach remote Easter Island, known locally as Rapa Nui.

The initiative is part of a repatriation program seeking to return to the Pacific Ocean island ancestral remains, sacred and funerary objects. Similar negotiations have taken place to try to recover a specimen in the hands of the British Museum.

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"For the first time, a Moai will return to the island from the mainland," Minister of Culture Consuelo Valdes told reporters.

"Without a doubt, this is part of a work that as a ministry we began years ago with the return of various collections and ancestors to their homeland."

Easter Island, over 2,000 miles (3,219 km) from the coast of Chile, has over a thousand stone statues, giant heads that were carved centuries ago by the island's inhabitants, which have brought it fame and UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

The Rapa Nui community held an act in honor of the icon at the National Museum of Natural History in the Chilean capital, which still retains two smaller sculptures. The statue will be housed in the Padre Sebastián Englert Anthropological Museum on the tourist island.

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Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Diane Craft

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