The Dutch owner of a 1,000-year-old Buddha statue containing a mummified monk has said he will return the artifact to China within a month.
Architect Oscar van Overeem said the statue will be enshrined in a temple near Yangchun in Fujian province. He bought the relic for 40,000 Dutch guilders ($20,500) in 1996 from a collector in Amsterdam who had acquired it in Hong Kong.
Residents in Yangchun say the statue may be the one that was stolen from the village in 1995, though van Overeem said he has proof that it did not come from there.
He said talks over the return of the relic are underway, though the date of its arrival has not yet been agreed upon.
The statue grabbed global attention in February after a scan revealed it contained the mummified remains of a Buddhist monk. It was featured in the Mummy World Exhibition at the Hungarian Natural History Museum in Budapest, which had planned to display it until May, and had previously been shown at the Drents Museum in Assen in the Netherlands.
The Budapest museum subsequently announced on its website that the relic had been removed and sent back to the Netherlands at the request of the Drents Museum. Van Overeem, a private collector, had lent the artifact to the Assen museum.
In March, after seeing pictures of the statue, residents of Yangchun pointed out its resemblance to the one that was stolen from the village.
Evidence that suggests the stolen statue and the one shown in Budapest are identical has been presented by the Fujian Administration of Cultural Heritage.
The administration said the case is being handled by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and officials plan to visit the village to gather more evidence.
However, van Overeem said he has proof that the statue did not come from there.
"It comes from a temple not far from the village," van Overeem said. "But of course it is Chinese and comes from Fujian province."
Villager Lin Yongtuan said there is no temple near Yangchun and the temple in the village is the only one in the area.