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More looted antiquities welcomed home

Culture Minister Phoeung Sackona and German Ambassador Joachim Baron von Marschall at the ceremony.
Culture Minister Phoeung Sackona and German Ambassador Joachim Baron von Marschall at the ceremony. Heng Chivoan

More looted antiquities welcomed home

For the second time in less than a week, the National Museum held a ceremony yesterday marking the homecoming of priceless Angkorian artifacts looted during the civil war.

Two 10th-century Brahma heads, looted from a temple at the Koh Ker archaeological site in Preah Vihear, were added to the museum’s collection of antiquities, alongside a 10th-century Rama statue returned by an American museum on Monday.

The heads, which had formerly belonged to an unnamed private collector in Paris, were discovered by Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong in 1994 while he was the Cambodian ambassador to France, according to the release.

“At that time, my friend told me that he saw the two Brahma heads placed for sale at the price of one million US dollars at a shop in Paris,” Namhong was quoted as saying. “In 1994, the French courts decided that the artifacts belonged to Cambodia.”

For more than 20 years after, the heads were kept at the residence of the Cambodian Embassy in Paris. They arrived in Phnom Penh on March 16.

Their repatriation follows a spate of high-value antiquity returns to the National Museum. In May, a 10th-century statue of the Hindu monkey deity Hanuman, which had also been looted from Koh Ker, was returned by the Cleveland Museum of Art.

In October, a Norwegian private collector returned 11 Cambodian antiquities, and in January, France’s Guimet Museum returned a 7th-century Hindu head.

“The return . . . shows the love, preservation and value of the national culture and the national soul, which was illicitly looted during the civil war,” Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona said in the release.

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