Cultural Officials Start Six-Day Training to Combat Heritage Crimes

PHNOM PENH – A training course has been launched to deepen the understanding of government officials on heritage law and law enforcement to prevent heritage crimes, under the theme “Cambodian site protection, monitoring, and looting documentation.”

The training aims to help the participants understand more about Cambodian heritage laws and to provide an integrative overview of all government bodies involved in heritage management.

Organized by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and funded by the U.S. Department of State, the training started on Feb. 7 and will last until Feb. 13. It will mostly be held in Phnom Penh, with trips to Banteay Meanchey and Siem Reap provinces.

Speaking to the media after the opening ceremony held on Feb. 7, Norn Soreimeas, program management specialist at the U.S. Embassy's Public Affairs Section, said small workshops will be held in other provinces as well.

But Phnom Penh is a convenient location for participation from relevant stakeholders, while Banteay Meanchey province is an adequate place for field practice, due to the resources in the province.

American trainers are members of the U.S. Cultural Antiquities Task Force. The training is attended by around 50 people from different government bodies, including the Heritage police, Apsara Authority, Customs and Excise authorities, and provincial culture officials, from various provinces.

The training will also help create and maintain records for site preservation and monitoring practices – through field exercises in Banteay Meanchey province – so Cambodia will be able to launch a national site inventory system.

The participants will also learn techniques to investigate antiquities’ illegal traffic and collect evidence, while the heritage professionals will learn how to cooperate and share information with law enforcement and work with prosecutors.

The training program has been prepared in accordance with the agreement between the U.S. and Cambodian governments to protect cultural resources by training diverse professionals in the methodology and application of theft and loss reduction.

Ministry of Culture Secretary of State Pen Monimakara spoke on behalf of Culture Minister Phoeurng Sackona. She said it was a shame that Cambodian rich cultural sites and antiquities have suffered from human illegal activities causing the loss of pieces to study the Khmer civilization.

“It is with many archeological pieces of evidence and historical background that we can determine the unique position of our region in the world. This cultural property represents our common history,” she said.

Khmer ancient artifacts have been widely traded on the world’s black market, with a constant demand for Angkor-era objects, sculptures, pieces of architecture, and artifacts in ceramic and bronze.

Those objects “have been and are still being sold illegally on the international art market,” Monimakara said.

While the Angkorian site is relatively safe, prehistoric sites such as Pro Hear, caves, and Bronze Age habitation sites are still targeted by illegal excavations. Preserving these artifacts is a step towards greater conservation of History, allowing future generations to understand the richness of their cultures and encouraging them to protect their heritage. 

Combating such crimes, she continued, involves having close cooperation and interaction between key stakeholders, including cultural authorities, police, customs and excise authorities, museums, dealers, and, not least, art and cultural experts.

Archeological looting is a challenging crime to document. The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts reports that most looting occurs at night and in remote areas.

U.S. Ambassador Patrick Murphy said Banteay Meanchey is an area of the country that is the most prone to illegal activities related to looting cultural heritage.

According to the Ambassador, the U.S. has returned more than 100 antiquities to Cambodia since 1997. The U.S. continues to support the preservation efforts of Preah Vihear temple and has provided over $3.5 million to restore Phnom Bakheng in Siem Reap province.

“The training also promotes collaboration between heritage professionals here, who will learn how to cooperate, and share information,” he said during the opening remark.

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