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Thais may return antiquities

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090127_03.jpg

Deal between Thai and Cambodian foreign ministers could see return of 43 ancient Khmer artefacts confiscated by Thai customs guards in 1999

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, right, and his Thai counterpart Kasit Piromya after their meeting Monday.

CAMBODIAN artefacts confiscated by Thai authorities are set to return to the Kingdom pending the approval of the Bangkok Cabinet, following an agreement Monday between Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and his Thai counterpart Kasit Piromya in Phnom Penh.

"Regarding the Khmer artefacts confiscated in Thailand, Kasit will ask the Thai Minister of Culture to request an approval from the Thai Cabinet to allow them to be sent back to Cambodia," Hor Namhong told reporters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In 1999, Thai customs agents seized 43 antique Khmer sculptures weighing more than eight tonnes at a port owned by a Thai shipping company.

The antiques were being smuggled from Cambodia to Singapore via Thailand and were destined for  markets in Europe and the United States. The sculptures are believed to have been stripped from ancient Khmer temples and monuments inside Cambodia.

Khim Sarith, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, told the Post that negotiations with Thailand on the return of the artefacts began a few years ago but that the Cambodian government was still awaiting an approval from the Thai government.

"I think that the bilateral meeting between the Cambodian and Thai foreign ministers will help to push forward the process of returning the Khmer artefacts," Khim Sarith said.

He added that prior to Monday's meeting, Thailand has recognised 18 of the 43 artefacts as belonging to Cambodia, but was hopeful the new agreement would see the return of all 43 pieces, which would be the second time the two countries have cooperated on the repatriation of Khmer antiquities.

In November 1999, the Thai government returned more than 100 carved stone blocks that had been smuggled into the country earlier in the year after being hacked from the walls of the temple of Banteay Chhmar in northwestern Cambodia.

"We are waiting to hear good news," said Khim Sarith.

"If the Thai government agrees to return our artefacts, we will go to take them immediately, but so far not a single artefact has been returned."  

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