The government of France recently returned one of Cambodia’s lost artefacts, in a gesture that the Kingdom’s diplomats and historians regarded as an excellent sign of the cooperation between the two nations.

The Cambodian embassy in France announced in a September 5 press release that a bas relief had been returned to its rightful owner after being seized by French customs authorities.

A handover ceremony was attended by Cambodian ambassador to France Ket Sophann, Eric Meunier, interregional director of France’s Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Customs Department and Juliette Bossart-Trignat, prefect delegate for Defence and Security of Lyon district.

On behalf of the Cambodian government, Sophann thanked the French authorities for their efforts to return this priceless piece to the Kingdom.

He noted that the bas relief is a part of Cambodian history and represents the spirit of the Khmer Empire.

“The return of this object – which is important historical and spiritual symbol of the past glory of the Khmer Empire – will allow an essential reunification of the national soul and identity,” he said.

According to the statement, the bas relief is believed to have been made in the 12th or 13th century, and weighs around 300kg. Its origin is believed to be the Preah Khan Kampong Svay or Banteay Chhmar temples.

It said the bas relief was stolen out of Cambodia in 1990s. It was confiscated during the inspection of an artefact auction house in Lyon, in February, 2020.

Sambor Mannara, a prominent Khmer historian, saw the return of the piece as virtuous gesture and said the people of Cambodia should be honoured that this important piece of cultural heritage had been returned.

“This is an example of France’s participation in conserving the culture of Cambodia, in addition to its contributions to research, and the preservation of our heritage,” he said.

Mannara noted that similar gestures had been carried out by the US and UK, among other countries that have returned Khmer artefacts to the Kingdom.

He added that now that Cambodia enjoyed peace, it is a suitable time for all of its stolen artefacts to be returned, as they are the foundation of Cambodian people learning and understanding their own history.