Looting of Khmer artifacts has prompted the publication of a list of ill-gotten items to look out for.
The illicit trade in Khmer antiquities has
led to the creation of the Red List by an international arts
organization as a tool to help customs officials, police officers, art
dealers and collectors recognize artifacts unlawfully smuggled out of
To be published in September by the International Council of Museums
(ICOM), the Red List describes the types of artifacts most favored in
the illicit antiquities market.
It offers sufficient identifying features that "if a customs officer
opens a package and sees something similar, they can contact local
officials to authenticate it," said Jennifer Thevenot, the ICOM officer
in charge of the project.
"It's difficult to say if the looting situation in Cambodia has gotten
better. It's still dramatic," said Thevenot. "I can say this from
wandering through Paris auction houses."
She noted that "cultural tourism is a main source of income for
Cambodia, so robbing artifacts is robbing the country of income."
Cambodia is one of only four countries to have a Red List. The others
are Iraq, Afghanistan and Peru, while similar lists exist for Africa
and Latin America.
While she specified the Ministry of Interior's cultural heritage police
and Interpol as the most likely officials to make use of the Red List,
she said the booklet was an awareness-raising tool that could be easily
distributed and interpreted.
Even eBay and other internet trading sites were beginning to monitor the sale of antiquities using the lists, she said.
"It generates international interest and gives visibility to the
problem," she said, and, while the list would have no legal authority,
it was meant to stimulate domestic and international lawmaking and law
A major legal issue for Cambodia, she explained, was that Thailand and
Singapore, both popular transit points for the illegal trade in Khmer
antiquities, were not signatories of the 1970 UN resolution on the
trafficking of cultural heritage which obligated countries to monitor
the traffic of antiquities across their borders.
"This could be an opportunity to hold a press conference in Thailand
where we could make a pitch for them to become a signatory," said
A consultative group met June 23-25 at Cambodia's National Museum of
Fine Arts in Phnom Penh to draft the Red List for Cambodia. The group,
which included representatives of the National Museum, the Ministry of
Culture, and the NGOs Heritage Watch and Friends of Khmer Culture,
agreed to a list organized according to pre-Angkor, Angkor, and
post-Angkor periods, in categories of stone, metal, wood, and ceramic
The document, to be published in Khmer, English, French and possibly
Thai, will also include a list of all cultural heritage laws that
impact on Cambodia.
"Looting of Angkor-era relics has been going on for so long that there
isn't much left to take, so now the looting of prehistoric items is a
bigger issue," said Dougald O'Reilly, head of Heritage Watch.
O'Reilly said the new list would be a boon for a country that, only
recently, was viewed as one of the easiest places to pilfer from.
Officials at the Angkor complex in the 1990s, he said, used to speak of
photographers documenting the temples for dealers in Bangkok who would
make catalogues from which collectors could order pieces to be stolen.
Nuon Than, administrative head of the heritage police, said officers in
his department were scheduled to receive training on July 4 on how to
use the list.