ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Friday that the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum should be returned to Athens and called for talks with Britain to achieve that aim.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in March that Britain is the legitimate owner of the Parthenon marbles, rebuffing Greece’s permanent request for the return of the 2,500-year-old sculptures.

“The UK should move to a bona fide dialogue with Greece, and I urge them to do so,” Mitsotakis said in a speech in Paris.

Addressing an event to mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations cultural and scientific agency, UNESCO, Mitsotakis said the body had taken a pivotal step in September, when it recognised the issue had an intergovernmental character.

“Therefore the obligation to return the Parthenon sculptures lies squarely with the UK government,” he said.

Since independence in 1832, Greece has repeatedly called for the return of the sculptures – known in Britain as the Elgin Marbles – that British diplomat Lord Elgin removed from the Parthenon temple in Athens in the early 19th century, when Greece was under Ottoman rule.

The British Museum in London has refused to return the sculptures – roughly half of a 160-metre frieze that adorned the 5th century BC monument – saying they were acquired by Elgin under a legal contract with the Ottoman Empire. It says they “are part of everyone’s shared heritage”.

“It is essential that the Parthenon marbles in London should be reunited with the majority of the Parthenon sculptures in Athens,” Mitsotakis said.

(Michele Kambas and Lefteris Papadimas; editing by Barbara Lewis)