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Pact extends protection of Khmer artifacts

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HENG CHIVOAN

US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli and Chuch Phoeurn, secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, sign a new MoU Monday.

IN a ceremony at Phnom Penh's National Museum, the United States and Cambodian governments renewed Monday a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to protect Cambodian artifacts and prevent their import into the US.

US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli also signed over a US$45,000 grant to help the National Museum rebuild its library and preserve its collection of rare books, which includes items dating back to the beginning of the last century.

The new agreement expands the scope of the original 2003 MoU to include artifacts from the Bronze Age to the Angkorian era, which experts say are increasingly the target of looting. It specifically restricts the import into the US of ancient Cambodian stone, metal and ceramic artifacts unless an export permit is issued by Cambodia.

The original MoU and cooperation between the two countries had helped abate the flow of Khmer artifacts into the US and led to the return of a "very precious item ... the head of a Shiva," said Chuch Phoeurn, secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, who presided over the ceremony. He added that the donation would provide for much-needed renovations to the museum library, which has weathered considerably since first opening its doors to the public in 1920.

Mussomeli said that while Cambodia was a "young country", it stemmed from "an ancient civilisation that was one of the greatest civilisations ever. We're happy to be able to help Cambodia preserve its past".

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