Hun Sen Urges Foreign Owners of Looted Khmer Antiquities to Return Them to the Country

Caption: A ceremony attended by Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodian dignitaries and foreign diplomats was held to mark the return of Khmer antiquities to the country over the last few years. Photo: PM Hun Sen's Facebook page

PHNOM PENH — Prime Minister Hun Sen has asked the owners of looted Khmer artifacts to return them to Cambodia as an act of good faith to help people recover from the trauma of decades of turmoil in the country.

“The government considers the return of the Khmer artifacts to Cambodia as a respectable gesture in accordance with ethics to help promote the national culture contributing to reconciliation and helping recover from trauma the Cambodian people who went through a long-lasting war,” he said on March 17 during a ceremony marking the return of Khmer antiquities to the country.

“I would like to appeal to museums, international institutions and the curators of Cambodian antiquities to continue to voluntarily return those items to Cambodia,” the prime minister said.

Cambodia has been investigating plundered artifacts in cooperation with the international community through every possible means, whether negotiations, administrative or judicial process, and even forgiveness if necessary, Hun Sen said.

The prime minister thanked the United States and the United Kingdom for cooperating with Cambodia to repatriate its national treasures and provide legal and technical support during the repatriation process. This reflects both countries’ efforts to prevent illicit antiquities smuggling, he added.

The sculptures of "Skanda on a Peacock" and "Ganesha" looted at Koh Ker—Cambodia’s capital in the early 10th century, which was the target of large-scale theft in past decades—and returned from the United States, are considered to be among the most magnificent artifacts that have so far been returned.

According to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, the artifacts that have recently been returned are priceless and represent the soul and the ancestors of Cambodia: important works viewed as guarding and protecting Cambodia and its people.

“The United States is proud of its longstanding support for the restoration and protection of historic sites of cultural significance for Cambodia and to repatriate invaluable artifacts back to Cambodia,” said U.S. Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy who attended the ceremony and was quoted in the U.S. Embassy press release issued after the event. “U.S. efforts in support of Cambodian stakeholders will help restore the soul of the Kingdom’s culture.”

According to the press release, the United States has been actively involved in the repatriation of Khmer artworks for 20 years during which the U.S. authorities have facilitated the return of more than 100 priceless antiquities through a long-standing U.S.-Cambodia cultural property agreement.

More than $5 million has been donated by the United States for Cambodia's cultural preservation efforts since 2001. This has included funds for the preservation of the 11th century Preah Vihear temple located along the Cambodia-Thai border and the 9th century Phnom Bakheng temple in Angkor Archeological Park, the press release stated.

In February 2023, 77 pre-Angkorian and Angkorian artworks looted by the notorious art dealer Douglas Latchford were returned to Cambodia from the United Kingdom.

Following an agreement between Cambodia and Latchford’s family in 2020, the family has returned more than 100 stone and bronze Khmer antiquities following three years of negotiations. The late Latchford was suspected of having acquired pre-Angkorian and Angkorian artifacts through Cambodian and Thai smugglers as far back as the 1950s and 1960s.

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