Cypriot police raided the Nicosia home of a senior United Nations official yesterday and confiscated three truckloads of church icons and other antiquities worth millions of dollars, police reported.
A Cypriot government statement said Austrian-born Prince Alfred zur Lippe-Weissenfeld, who has represented the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Cyprus since July 1978, would be allowed to leave "to account for his actions before appropriate U.N. authorities."
U.N. sources said Lippe-Weissenfeld resigned his post and boarded a flight for Athens en route for Geneva.
The police raid produced more than 30 Byzantine Church icons, scores of pieces of ancient pottery, jewelry and religious items.
One officer desscribed the removal as like "taking away an Aladdin's cave."
Police said the items were obtained from Turkish Cypriot looters who robbed churches and ancient sites in the northern, Turkish-occupied part of the island.
In a telephone call to the U.N. office's Geneva headquarters, Lippe-Weissenfeld confirmed that his home was searched and some pieces from his private collection confiscated. He said he had bought most of the pieces during many years outside Cyprus and others openly in the shops of Cyprus.
The Cyprus government has strict legislation banning illegal possession of antique objects and trading in them. It has complained repeatedly to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization about the systematic looting of churches and ancient sites.
The looting broke out in northern Cyprus after the Turkish invasion and occupation of nearly half the island in the summer of 1974. The 200,000 Greek Cypriot inhabitants of the Turkish-occupied region either fled or were expelled by Turkish troops. The hundreds of churches and ancient monasteries were abandoned and have fallen into disrepair.
Cypriot officials complain unofficially that foreign diplomats, U.N. officials and members of the U.N. peace force -- the only people allowed to travel freely between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sectors of the island -- trade with Turkish antique looters. Police officials say they are unable to prevent the traffic effectively because of the diplomatic immunity of the persons involved.