The Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration has warned of legal action against people who fail to report to authorities about the discovery of ancient objects.
In an announcement, it said people who had received information about ancient objects from others, or who had spotted ancient objects themselves while digging, or had just picked them up from the land or fished them out of the water, all have a legal obligation to report the information and hand the objects over to the relevant local or national authorities.
Provincial hall spokesman Kheang Phearum said that in the past, the administration had observed that some people had spotted ancient objects but did not report them to the police. They had sometimes even collected those ancient objects and stored them illegally.
“The collection of ancient objects from the sea floor, rivers, and lakes, or from underground or simply on the ground, which are then held without notifying the authorities, is illegal. They will face a prison term if convicted,” he said.
Under Article 63 of the Law on Protection of Cultural Heritage, anyone who alienates, moves, destroys, modifies, alters, repairs or restores a registered cultural object, whether intentionally or through negligence, without informing the authorities faces a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine equal to the value of the cultural object in question. The value of the ancient object is to be determined by expert opinion.
Prak Sovannara, director-general of the General Department of Heritage at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said the Law on Protection of Cultural Heritage does not precisely stipulate the age of objects considered to be ancient or protected.
Instead, the department’s experts use their own judgment to determine the value of the objects given their history and cultural importance. If the objects are deemed important to Cambodian culture or history in some way, those objects fall under the protection of the law.
“When it comes to the law, we don’t determine that it is after 50 years or after 100 years that objects are regarded as ancient and part of our national heritage and wealth. Our law doesn’t speak about the years. But it is not only in our country, there are other countries that don’t go by age to make their determinations.
“Some countries, however, have set forth exact ages in years in order for objects to be protected.
“Each time an ancient object is discovered, specialists have to undertake a thorough study of it, and assess whether it can be regarded as ancient or as architecturally, historically, culturally or aesthetically valuable,” he said.
Sovannara added that sometimes people took ancient objects that they spotted while ploughing land for farming and stored them away because they did not know that it was an offence punishable by imprisonment.
In some cases, he said, people honestly did not know about the age or importance of the objects they had found.
The best practice for everyone, therefore, is to alert the authorities and hand all such objects to specialists.
Sovannara said the participation of ordinary people, such as farmers, is very valuable in finding ancient objects that can be studied and added to the National Heritage Wealth List.