Minister of Interior Sar Kheng reminded the heritage protection police to work closely with the APSARA National Authority (ANA) and remain vigilant. Their most sacred task is the protection of the Kingdom’s antiquities from looting.
Although no such crimes have been reported in recent years, much of the precious heritage of Cambodia was lost to unscrupulous individuals during the tumultuous war years. Hundreds of pieces have been returned, mostly by US authorities, after the trade in smuggled treasures was discovered.
Sar Kheng, who served as acting prime minister during Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recent official visit to Maldives, presided over the inauguration of the unit’s new headquarters in Siem Reap province on January 17.
“These specialist officers are responsible for any crimes involving antiquities. Wherever a case involving the destruction, theft or trafficking of these precious items is discovered, I expect thorough investigations to be carried out by the heritage police. Furthermore, I expect them to get results, in the form of convictions,” he said.
He expected them to be on standby in all areas which contained potentially valuable artifacts. He was adamant that they be especially careful to restrict access to high-risk parts of the Angkor resort, particularly at night.
“Some of the ancient Khmer work is valuable on the international black market, so remember that desperate thieves employ cunning or deception to obtain them,” he warned.
Sar Kheng reminded the assembled officers of the shared love for the Kingdom’s cultural heritage that had led them to their work.
“The heritage protection unit should work closely with the local authorities to ensure it can maintain public order and protect visitors to Angkor Archaeological Park. They are the valued guests of the Kingdom,” he said.
“This should be your focus, not your own private businesses, or personal matters,” he added.
He instructed the Siem Reap provincial authorities – as well as the heritage police – to consider the natural environment around the Angkor Park part of its cultural heritage, and protect it accordingly.
ANA spokesman Long Kosal said no heritage crimes had been reported recently, but he understood the importance of vigilance, and respected the deputy prime minister’s reminders.
“As we all know, the ancient objects of Cambodia are scattered across the country, even buried under the earth. We are all 100 per cent dedicated to the protection of this unique part of Khmer culture,” he added.
He also said that excellent security for visitors was provided and that public order was well maintained within the grounds of the park.