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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thailand continues rare art trade

Thailand continues rare art trade

T HOUSANDS of smuggled Cambodian antiquities are being sold in Bangkok shops and others are being held by the Thai government, according to a senior official in the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Arts.

The official, who would not be named for fear of jeopardizing Cambodian-Thai relations, said that on his recent visits to Thailand he had seen many Cambodian artifacts for sale in antique shops.

Meanwhile, the Thai government had still not given many artifacts it had seized from smugglers since Cambodia's 1993 elections.

The Thais had confiscated three sets of artifacts, totaling 54 pieces. Of those, only 3 pieces had been returned to Cambodia.

A key issue, the official said, was that Thailand was not a signatory to the UNESCO convention banning the illicit sale of countries' cultural property.

"They are not a UNESCO member so they think they can keep whatever imported antiques they want. It appears they don't care and they ignore what we appeal for."

"The Royal Government has made concessions for Thailand such as releasing the nine Thais involved with the coup but we get nothing from them on this problem," he said

He showed the Post a secret list of about 10 suspected Thai smugglers and dealers of Cambodian artifacts.

He said Cambodian cultural delegations to Thailand had visited antique shops - one with more than 100 Khmer artifacts - to investigate the problem. They had taken photographs of some pieces (one pictured right).

The artifacts - made of stone, bronze, copper, ceramics and clay - were definitely Khmer, he said. They were made of materials, and in styles, not used in Thailand at the time of making.

Nut Narrang, Minister of Culture and Arts, confirmed the government was concerned about the problem. He said Cambodian antiques had also been put up for auction in England and France.

One artifact, a 10th Century statue, which was taken to Thailand and then to France, was expected to be returned to Cambodia soon.

The four-headed statue of the head of Brama had been cut into four pieces, one with each face, after being smuggled to Thailand. It came to light when a Thai dealer offered it for auction, seeking a price of 300 million francs, in France.

The French National Museum became suspicious and seized it.

Nut Narrang said the piece had been given to the Cambodian Embassy in France, where it was being exhibited before being returned to Cambodia.

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