An ancient set of gold jewellery stolen from Cambodia and lost for decades was finally returned to the Kingdom Saturday morning, more than one year after the government first petitioned for its return.
Officials celebrated the homecoming with an elaborate parade from Phnom Penh International Airport to the National Museum. The set – which includes a crown, necklaces and earrings – is believed to have once adorned a statue at Angkor Wat, where the items were looted during the Khmer Rouge regime, according to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.
“This is a successful mission of all Cambodians, including diplomats and people who love the arts and antiques. Everyone is happy,” Chuch Phoeun, secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, told AFP Saturday.
The Cambodian government spent more than a year negotiating the return of the jewellery after discovering the artefacts in the online catalogue of a London art dealer, including more than six months preparing paperwork after the dealership agreed to return them in April, according to ministry spokesman Thai Norak Sathya.
Norak Sathya said the ministry invited the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia – a student group led by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son Hun Many – to make a joint announcement about the return “because we wanted youth to participate”.
Over the course of decades of French colonialism and later civil war, when there was scant oversight of cultural heritage, countless historical artefacts were stolen, many of which are now being returned.
It is not known how the jewellery was stolen, but the pieces appear prominently in a book written by two Southeast Asian antiquities experts who are accused by New York district prosecutors of conspiring with a prominent Manhattan art dealer to traffic antiquities. The art dealer, Nancy Wiener, is next scheduled to appear in court in New York on February 20.